Medicos seize the moment
independent ‘‘ tiers’’, with the first to recognise isolation, and the other to recognise the doctor’s procedural skills in disciplines such as anaesthetics, emergency services or obstetrics, and those who provide ‘‘ meaningful on-call services’’ to the local hospital.
In both cases, a doctor practising in the rural area designated as RRMA 3 would receive a quarterly payment equivalent to 7.5 per cent of his or her entire Medicare billings in that period for each of the tiers in which they met the criteria. The loadings would rise from an extra 7.5 per cent in RRMA 3, to 10 per cent in RRMA 4, and 20 per cent in RRMA 5. Following the pattern of existing federal incentive schemes, the loading would dip for RRMA 6 to 12.5 per cent, then up again for the most remote areas — RRMA 7.
RDAA president doctor Peter Rischbieth said although the sum involved was significant, he claimed it was not excessive in the context of the crisis that rural health services faced.
‘‘ The current incentives have only managed to get one in 20 medical graduates to practice in RRMAs 4 to 7 in the last 10 years,’’ Rischbieth said.
‘‘ In years gone by, 46 per cent of medical graduates used to apply for general practice training — currently the rate is only 23 per cent, and that’s just general practice overall, not the rural stream.
‘‘ We need more GPs doing more primary health care (in rural Australia) — if we have more primary health care, we can stop some of the heavy expenses in hospital care.’’
Independent statistics show the situation with regards to doctors in rural areas is getting worse, not better.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that in outer regional areas, the number of doctors has fallen from 147 to 143 full-time-equivalents per 100,000 population, and from 152 to 133 in remote areas. In areas classified as very remote, the rate has fallen from 138 to 95.
The result has been a vicious circle, where the fewer doctors left in rural areas are each left with less support and a more onerous oncall roster — in turn encouraging more to quit and head back to the cities.
Rischbieth says that in Queensland, some medical superintendants are now on-call for up to 21 days in a row — far more than the one in five he says would be regarded as acceptable.
The offices of both Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott and Opposition Health spokeswoman Nicola Roxon said various lobby group proposals had been received, and both hinted there would be more policy announcements by both sides before polling day.
A spokeswoman for Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott said the minister ‘‘ always welcomes contributions from the AMA and other stakeholder groups, and takes their concerns seriously’’.
‘‘ We are always interested in their suggestions to make Australia’s health system better,’’ she said.
‘‘ We will be making announcements throughout the campaign about strengthening Australia’s health system.’’
Rischbieth says both parties are ‘‘ obviously keeping their cards close to their chests at the moment’’ but is hopeful some of the policy will make it into the pre-election manifestos.
Capolingua says now is a ‘‘ particularly good opportunity for the Coalition and Labor to show us where they are going to go — what plans they have in store. That’s really what we need to see, and analyse.’’