Rural doctors are calling for fast action to halt the decline of health services in the bush.
Both new and redirected funding is needed to get key initiatives underway to increase the number of doctors in rural areas.
The call comes as a GP in the Northern Territory has sounded the alarm on the continued difficulty in recruiting GPs to country areas.
Dr P.J. Spafford from Gorge Health in Katherine said efforts to recruit more doctors to the practice to reduce patient waiting times had failed, and has called for help.
Dr John Hall, president of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, said the 2020 Federal Budget was a pivotal moment in securing the future of rural health care.
"The Federal Government has so far done a decent job of identifying and developing programs that will help build the pipeline of doctors training to provide medical services in the bush," Dr Hall said.
"But these programs are under-resourced, and simply need more money and renewed focus to get them out of the starting blocks.
"The clock is ticking on rural health. Week by week we see more hospitals downgraded and the services they can offer reduced.
"Once these services leave a community it is very hard to bring them back.
"In our submission for Budget 2020-21, we are calling on the Federal Government to commit more funding for the National Rural Generalist Pathway and to continue to fund the National Rural Health Commissioner, who has been pivotal to the development of this program, as an ongoing role.
"The Pathway is the key to training the next generation of Rural Generalist doctors. Currently there is funding from a previous budget for an additional 100 training places due to commence in 2021, but this program is stagnating in the corridors of the Department of Health.
"With only six weeks to go until the recruitment for these positions opens, we still don't know how they are going to be rolled out. This cannot continue Budget to Budget.
"Our pre-budget submission has focused on investment to create a sustainable workforce to meet the needs of rural and remote Australians, and for the Government to build on current initiatives to ensure they reach their full potential.
"We need to see a minimum of 350 Australian General Practice Training (AGPT) positions each year to be quarantined as Rural Generalist training posts, an additional 240 positions in the Junior Doctor Innovation Fund for junior doctors to spend time training in rural towns, and 60 new advanced-skills training positions established to address the bottlenecks that are currently preventing keen doctors from gaining these skills, such as surgery, mental health and palliative care."
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RDAA is also calling for the current underspend of funding on the AGPT 2020 rural training pathway used to create additional subsidised GP training places in rural and remote communities, and the 2021 underspend to create a flexible pool that both GP training colleges can use to maximise the intake of eligible applicants.
RDAA supports the Australian Medical Association in their call for additional investment into General Practice, however solving the maldistribution of rural doctors requires a multifaceted solution, which incorporates investment in the development of a sustainable rural medical workforce.
"But rural towns need more than GPs and Rural Generalists... they also need other specialists," Dr Hall said.
"We want the Government to commit to funding 10 non-GP specialist posts in each of the Regional Training Hubs, expand funding for the Specialist Training Program to create positions that require the supervisor and registrar to provide services in smaller regional, rural or remote locations, and fund the training of generalist specialists (such as general surgeons) needed by rural and remote communities.
"People in the bush save the Government billions of dollars just by not being able access the same medical services that are available to their metro cousins.
"We are only asking for a fraction of this amount to be invested back into training Australia's future rural doctor workforce, alongside a few key initiatives, to help improve the health outcomes and life expectancy of rural and remote Australians, Close the Gap, and directly save lives," Dr Hall said.
The story Rural doctors want more help to stop decline in health services first appeared on Katherine Times.