Feds support for rural GPs must go to the right place

Dr John Hall.

Federal government support aimed at assisting rural medical practices and helping them recruit more doctors should only go to medical practices that are truly rural, not those in large regional centres or on the urban fringe, said the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) on Wednesday.

The RDAA claimed that some practices in regional and urban fringe locations have expressed concern that they are no longer classified as rural locations, and are therefore no longer able to receive rural supports, following the latest review of rurality classifications under the Modified Monash Model (MMM) scheme.

RDAA President Dr John Hall said that they understand why these medical practices are disappointed, but it is crucial that the support is only provided to practices that are truly rural “otherwise the whole reason for introducing the supports in the first place will be lost.”

 “The fact that many practices, including in larger regional centres and semi-urban areas, have continued to rely so heavily on rural incentives and supports shows just how much general practice in Australia is hurting,” Dr Hall said.

 “Right across Australia, general practices are under increasing cost and workforce pressures. Many are finding it hard to stay open.

 “But to use rural incentives to try and fix this is not the way to go – it erodes the real reason why rural incentives are there.

 “To their credit, the Federal Government and Federal Health Department get this.

 “What the Government doesn’t seem to get, however, is the urgent need to better support general practice as a whole – both in the cities and the bush – including by increasing the Medicare rebate to much more appropriate levels.”

 Medical practices usually lose their rurality classification because while they were originally located in a smaller rural community, that community has now grown into a regional centre.

 “Updates to their classification reflects changes in the community that have occurred over time,” Dr Hall said.

 “The MMM provides a comprehensive framework to determine rurality, that includes factors such as the population, distance from capital city, number of medical practitioners and level of access to medical services.

 “When rural incentives are used to prop up medical practices in urban and regional areas, it makes it much harder to recruit doctors to the smaller rural and remote towns that really need them, as the extra incentive is not there anymore.”

 Dr Hall says that there must still be an option for practices to have their classification reviewed to ensure that exceptional cases were not being impacted unfairly by their new classification level.

“But for the most part, the MMM classification scheme determines rurality well – so it will usually be more a case of asking practices to assess whether they are really, truly rural, and for the Government to ask itself what it could be doing to better support general practice as a whole,” he said.