The true cost of Rural Specialist shortages
A report on ABC News today discloses just how much the hospitals in rural Australia are paying for short-term ‘locum’ specialists1.
This is yet another manifestation of the Metropolitan/Rural maldistribution of all doctors in Australia. For medical specialists, this is getting worse each year.
The item seemed to concentrate on general practitioners. In fact the rates cited for locum rates were for specialists – surgeons, physicians and Emergency Specialists. This is because fewer and fewer Australian graduates are choosing to train or work as medical specialists in rural and regional areas.
The Regional Medical Specialists Association considers this another manifestation of just how serious this issue is. Rural hospitals have enough trouble managing their budgets, with much less flexibility than metropolitan hospitals. Now the marketplace, starved of medical specialists prepared to work outside all the metropolitan areas, is placing even further pressures on the finances of rural hospitals.
The Commonwealth Minister for Health recently announced that mechanisms designed to keep overseas trained doctors working in rural areas for 10 years after arrival will be will be liberalised. This will allow International Medical Graduates to work in major regional centres and outer metropolitan areas. This will only worsen the situation.
The previous Commonwealth government developed the Integrated Rural Training Pipeline for Medicine scheme (IRTP), which was said to have bipartisan support. This is a program which favours recruitment of medical students from rural areas, encourages the development of more medical school places in rural areas, and aims to increase the amount of postgraduate training, including specialist training, in rural areas.
It is this Association’s earnest hope that the IRTP is strengthened by the new government, considering the distress signals that rural Australia is sending.
We consider that the marketplace for rural medical specialists is currently seriously flawed: perhaps no longer fit for purpose. We plan to explore this question in more detail at our Annual Conference in May 2023.