Healthcare workforce probe

The Australian Government will undertake a wide-ranging review to urgently investigate how to distribute doctors and other health workers more equitably around the country.

The Working Better for Medicare Review will examine how current policies and programs can be strengthened to make it easier to see a doctor, nurse, or other health worker in the outer suburbs of our major cities and in regional, rural and remote Australia. 

The review will look at Medicare’s role in locating the workforce, as well as the three main policy levers used to distribute the workforce: 

  • Monash modified model, 
  • district of workforce shortage, and 
  • distribution priority area. 

The aim is to have an appropriately located workforce, particularly in areas that find it difficult to attract and keep doctors, so that all Australians can access the care they need, when they need it, regardless of where they choose to live. 

The review will be led by nurse, advocate and remote health expert Professor Sabina Knight and former senior health bureaucrat and academic Mick Reid, and underpinned by stakeholder engagement, with the findings expected to be provided to government by mid-2024. 

Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler said Medicare was facing a range of demographic headwinds, including an ageing population and the fact that chronic conditions were becoming increasingly common. 

“None of these headwinds are new, and several people have been sounding the alarm on some of these trends for many years. Fifty years ago, one quarter of the population had a chronic condition – only one in four – but 15 years ago, that figure had climbed to around 40%,” he said. 

“The levers we have to spread doctors and health workers around the country are from a very different time, before the COVID pandemic and the global health workforce crunch. 

“And as the College of GPs’ Health of the Nation Report showed last week, more and more Australians are presenting to GPs with mental health concerns or seeking diagnoses for developmental disorders.” 

Mr Butler said the new Medicare rebate for GP consultations longer than 60 minutes became available from November, to give GPs the time they need to provide better care for patients with complex needs. 

He also announced that the first two blended funding packages would become available by the middle of next year. 

“One will be targeted at the more than 13,000 patients that present to hospital 10 or more times each year, and the other at the nearly 200,000 Australians in residential aged care,” he said. 

“Practices registered for MyMedicare will be paid incentives to provide their registered patients in aged care with regular visits and care planning, and the development of the funding package for that group has been worked through with stakeholders and can now be announced.” 

The incentives include $300 per patient, per year to be paid quarterly to the GP, and $130 per patient, per year to be paid quarterly to the practice, and rural loadings will apply, with payments increasing in line with the remoteness of the community. 

“Importantly, these funding packages sit on top of the existing fee-for-service, they don’t replace it — all existing Medicare rebates will continue to be paid as well,” Mr Butler said. 

He said it was still early days since registration opened in October, but already nearly 370,000 patients had registered, along with more than 5000 general practices.