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Hambleton to advise on rural incentives

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Immediate-past AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton has been appointed to advise the Federal Government on incentives for doctors to work in rural and remote areas.

Dr Hambleton is part of a three-member panel, including former Rural Doctors Association of Australia President Dr Paul Mara and Monash University Emeritus Professor John Humphreys, who have been engaged to help overhaul the General Practice Rural Incentives Program (GPRIP).

The appointment of the panel follows the Government’s landmark decision to ditch the flawed Australian Standard Geographical Classification – Remoteness Area (ASGC-RA) system and replace it with the more accurate Modified Monash Model (MMM) system to guide the allocation of resources and incentives in regional, rural and remote areas.

Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash said the appointment of the panel was the next phase in the Government’s program of reforms to the rural health workforce.

“We must ensure that workforce programs are targeted to getting the right doctors, with the right skills, to the right places,” Senator Nash said.

There are significant imbalances in the distribution of GPs and other doctors around the country. While there are relatively high concentrations of GPs in the major cities and regional centres, many rural communities suffer from a shortage of doctors, forcing patients to travel many hours to receive treatment.

The Minister said the panel would consult with rural doctors and key health organisations on redesigning the GPRIP to use the Modified Monash system to best align incentives with need, and would also look at opportunities to increase the exposure of junior doctors to rural practice.

The move to the MMM classification system has been hailed by the AMA and other medical organisations as a major advance for rural health given the glaring anomalies in the allocation of resources under the ASGC-RA classification system.

There have been numerous perverse outcomes under the ASGC-RA system, such as doctors working in Cairns, a coastal city of 150,000 people, receiving the same incentives as those working in central west NSW towns such as Hay and Deniliquin.

The MMM is based on the current Australian Bureau of Statistics remoteness classification structure, and classifies regional areas according to local town size.

The Minister said that, as a result, under the MMM system Charters Towers would be in a different category to Townsville, Port Fairy will have a different classification to Ballarat, Gundagai will be different to Hobart and Sale will differ from Mildura.

Adrian Rollins