Federal Nationals Minister for Regional Health, Dr David Gillespie, has announced two significant rural health initiatives.
The first, which will take effect from January 1, 2022, will eliminate the HELP debt of doctors and nurse practitioners who work in general practice in a rural, remote, or very remote location for a specified period.
For doctors and nurse practitioners working in remote and very remote areas (MM6-7)the specified period of time is half the length of their medical degree (usually 2 to 3 years for medical practitioners and one year for nurse practitioners).
For those working in rural areas (MM3-5), the specified period of time is the full length of the degree. If an individual has worked in these locations for half of the specified periods, they can receive a 50% elimination of their HELP debt.
To be eligible, practitioners must have provided a minimum level of MBS billed services (equivalent of 24 hours per week) during the specified time. This is to ensure we reward doctors who have made a home in rural, remote and very remote communities.
Dr Gillespie said this is a significant investment to incentivise more doctors and nurse practitioners to live and practice in rural, remote, and very remote areas of Australia.
The second initiative will see GP catchments in MM3 and MM4 areas receive automatic Distribution Priority Area status from January 1, 2022.
Currently these areas are assessed annually against a service level benchmark.
Dr Gillespie said as Minister, he has heard from many general practices about the difficulty they are having recruiting doctors due to local circumstances including GP retirements, the long wait times experienced by patients, and increasing population demands.
He said this announcement will make it easier for general practices in MM3 and MM4 locations rural and regional areas to recruit from the pool of GPs under location moratoriums, such as overseas trained doctors. It will also give also give more overseas trained doctors the opportunity to work in regional, rural and remote Australia.
Dr Gillespie said these two initiatives show the NSW Nationals in the federal government are serious about supporting doctors who genuinely commit to practice in regional, rural and remote towns, which offers continuity of care, instead of having an over-reliance of locums.
“As the Minister for Regional Health, I am focused on delivering better outcomes, reducing access barriers and creating a flexible system that works for all Australians, regardless of where they live,” he said.