Rural locum scheme ex­ten­sion wel­comed

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health - Adam Cress­well Health ed­i­tor

RURAL ob­ste­tri­cians and gy­nae­col­o­gists have wel­comed the fed­eral Gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to ex­tend a rural locum scheme for an­other year, help­ing to prop up the rural ob­stet­ric work­force at a cost of over $500,000.

The Spe­cial­ist Ob­stet­ric Locum Scheme (SOLS) was set up in Oc­to­ber last year, and has so far pro­vided sub­si­dies for 20 ob­ste­tri­cians to travel to re­mote towns where a res­i­dent doc­tor badly needs a break.

But its pilot fund­ing was due to run out this Septem­ber, rais­ing the risk that the ex­o­dus of ob­ste­tri­cians from rural ar­eas to the cities might ac­cel­er­ate if the scheme ended and left doc­tors with re­duced sup­port.

An­nounc­ing the one-year ex­ten­sion last week, fed­eral health min­is­ter Tony Ab­bott said bet­ter locum ser­vices ‘‘ help to ease the time con­straints ob­ste­tri­cians face, and en­cour­ages them ei­ther to main­tain or to be­gin a ca­reer in rural ar­eas’’.

He also cited a re­port by the Rural Doc­tors As­so­ci­a­tion of Aus­tralia, that found al­though nearly 30 per cent of Aus­tralia’s ba­bies were born in rural ar­eas, only 16 per cent of ob­ste­tri­cians worked in those re­gions. In ad­di­tion, half of the re­main­ing pool of just 130 rural spe­cial­ist ob­ste­tri­cians na­tion­wide are due to re­tire within five years.

Chris­tine Tip­pett, pres­i­dent of the Royal Aus­tralian and New Zealand Col­lege of Ob­ste­tri­cians and Gy­nae­col­o­gists, which ad­min­is­ters the scheme, says that be­fore its launch many doc­tors found it hard to find a locum and had to do with­out hol­i­days or study leave as a re­sult. Pro­vid­ing locum cover was ‘‘ es­sen­tial if th­ese spe­cial­ists are to re­main in rural prac­tice’’.

RDAA pres­i­dent Peter Ris­ch­bi­eth said the SOLS scheme had ‘‘ ex­ceeded all ex­pec­ta­tions’’ and was pro­vid­ing ‘‘ af­ford­able, qual­ity locum re­lief’’.

Un­der the scheme, rural doc­tors can ap­ply for a locum to RANZCOG, which keeps a list of ob­ste­tri­cians will­ing to pro­vide tem­po­rary cover. Ne­go­ti­a­tions on rates and con­di­tions are be­tween the locum and the res­i­dent doc­tor.

The res­i­dent doc­tor pays the locum on his or her re­turn from leave, and then ap­plies to the col­lege for a re­fund — which is capped at $750 per day, up to a max­i­mum of 14 days a year. De­tails of the fee ne­go­ti­ated be­tween the locum and res­i­dent doc­tor re­main con­fi­den­tial and are not dis­closed.

Ris­ch­bi­eth says the scheme’s costs were off­set by the money saved by avoid­ing hav­ing to trans­fer preg­nant women — of­ten by ex­pen­sive air re­trieval — to other cen­tres. The RDAA said it had es­ti­mated that Con­tin­ued inside, page 17

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