RDAA president John Hall said the announcement was “a significant step forward”. However, more investment was needed to address the “crisis” in rural health, with people often waiting weeks or travelling long distances to see a doctor.
“We’re seeing rural maternity wards closing and a wholesale downgrading of services being delivered in hospitals,” he said. “A lot of birthing units are on a knife-edge with skeleton staff … We want to reverse that trend.”
Dr Hall said it was important to train rural GPs as generalist doctors with the skills to treat patients in hospital – including acute care, emergency and maternity care – to ensure local residents could access the full suite of health services locally.
High-level training also made working as a rural GP more “sought after” among medical graduates, he said, helping attract doctors to areas that might otherwise struggle to fill positions.
“We know these jobs are really rewarding,” Dr Hall said. “Doctors who get this experience really like it and see working as a rural GP as a viable career option.”
GPs with advanced skills in hospital medicine are also eligible for higher pay.
Dr Hall said the association was disappointed at the progress made so far on the rural generalist pathway, which is intended to provide more support for rural doctors to access training, saying the plan seemed to be “stagnating in the corridors of the Department of Health”.
Mr Coulton will say in his speech, seen by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, that federal grants to set up “co-ordination units” to support rural generalist trainees navigating their training were being “finalised”.
“The pathway will also provide an expansion of Commonwealth-supported rural junior doctor training rotations in primary care settings,” he will say.
The RDAA used its pre-budget submission lodged with the government last week to call for “ongoing investment” in rural GP training and swifter action on the rural generalist pathway.
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.