Rural generalist pathway to be established in first year of rural medical plan

The Rural Medical Workforce Plan was released Monday by the state government in a bid to retain and attract doctors to rural and regional South Australia.

Dr John Williams.

Dr John Williams.

Minister for Health and Wellbeing Stephen Wade said the plan would establish a rural generalist medical pathway in the first year to ensure the workforce could grow to deliver world class care in rural areas.

"It is clear that the most urgent health workforce issue we face is the shortage of rural doctors, particularly in the more remote areas of South Australia," Mr Wade said.

"The Rural Medical Workforce Plan...outlines strategies to help attract more doctors to the regions and back up our country clinicians with the support they need, when and where they need it.

"One of the most important strategies included in the plan is the introduction of a coordinated rural generalist training pathway, which will increase training positions based within rural South Australia."

The plan includes several objectives to achieve in years one, two and by the fifth year of the strategy.

Objectives they aim to achieve in the first year include expanding intern and post graduate training in rural hospitals, advocating for SA high school students to have preferential access to medical school positions, investigating factors of career choices for medical students and junior doctors, and considering new medical models including rural generalists employed directly out of rural hospitals.

Member for Flinders Peter Treloar with Minister for Health Stephen Wade.

Member for Flinders Peter Treloar with Minister for Health Stephen Wade.

The state government conducted public and stakeholder consultations in August and September this year, and received 49 written responses from medical practitioners and local government.

The government's pledged $20 million will help to develop the rural health workforce strategies.

Port Lincoln based GP Dr John Williams said the plan had undertaken thorough consultation.

"The plan is good and a long term plan certainly needs to be put in place," he said.

"25 per cent of the South Australian population is rural and we've been neglected for too long.

"GPs here are already doing a generalist role...but (more) rural generalists would certainly be a good thing.

"If it works like it does in the eastern states, GPs (would be) employed part time at the hospital and part time at a clinic as well.

"Support, training and payment and general work conditions would improve.

"At the moment we are not really well supported for teaching and training registrars and interns...we would be a lot better supported under the generalist model if fully put in place."

Dr Williams said however the plan did not mention long term funding.

"The elephant in the room is the funding in place...(the $20 million) is only earmarked for developing the strategies, it doesn't actually fund the strategies long term," he said.

"It will take some strong leadership in government, and yes it will mean asking for extra funding from the federal government.

"Small towns are really struggling...our workforce issues are a problem now, we need support now until the plan can be fully rolled out."

Rural Doctors Association of South Australia president Peter Rischbieth said the state was "20 years behind" on having a plan for the medical workforce.

The money spent on the program will ultimately save the government and country money by providing good preventative health care.

RDA president Peter Rischbieth

"The history of all this is there has been no medical workforce plan until the group was started this year," he said.

"There are very good proposals in the plan, particularly the rural generalist program...but it's not solving long term workforce shortages.

"It will be helpful in the short term...but we're asking the state government and the minister to propose funding and implement the rural generalist training program with specific state government funds to support teaching hospitals both in metropolitan and rural areas for doctors pursuing a rural career."

He said while there is seed funding to establish a rural generalist training office, there was no long term funding commitment.

"In the metropolitan hospitals there are significant amounts of money dedicated to metro LHNs specifically for training and teaching...we would like to see the government commit to teaching and training in rural hospitals, we've been calling on it for over 10 years," he said.

"The money spent on the program will ultimately save the government and country money by providing good preventative health care."

Dr Rischbieth said there needed to be a budget allocation this year in order to get the workforce plan in motion.

"The reason RDA is passionate about this is we want to encourage younger doctors to pursue the exciting and rewarding career of being a rural doctor," he said.

To read the plan visit sahealth.sa.gov.au and search 'Rural Medical Workforce Plan'.

This story Plan for new GP strategy first appeared on Port Lincoln Times.