The RACGP and Rural Doctors Association of Australia have welcomed bipartisan support for an election pledge by the Government to invest an additional $146 million in new funding for doctors and allied health professionals in regional and rural communities.

The pledged investment includes $35 million to significantly expand the successful Innovative Models of Collaborative Care program across rural and regional Australia from 1 January 2023.

The John Flynn Prevocational Doctor Program will be expanded to more than 1,000 placements in rural Australia per year by 2026 with a $15 million investment.

Additional rural training posts will attract $9 million, supporting rural generalists, GP registrars, and Fellowed GPs to undertake advanced skills training – like obstetrics, palliative care, paediatrics and mental health – that are needed in their community.

And $87 million will provide additional workforce incentives to GP’s and allied health professionals to provide further targeted support to rural generalists with additional education and skills to work in the regions.

These incentives will also support the engagement of nurses, nurse practitioners and allied health professionals as part of local multidisciplinary care teams.

Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) President, Dr Megan Belot, said that it was a relief to see strong support for health policy to support ‘real rural’ medical services.

“I was fortunate to attend the announcement in Shepparton (3 May 2022) and have spoken to Ministers Hunt and Gillespie about how these initiatives would provide the kind of support rural doctors and medical services have been crying out for,” Dr Belot said.

“This package of initiatives is the game changer that rural needed and positions Rural Generalism as a premium career choice for junior doctors.”

RACGP President Adj. Professor Karen Price welcomed the announcement but also called for more long-term investment.

“It is positive news that the Government has heeded the RACGP’s calls and boosted investment in rural and regional general practice, including new funding for junior doctors taking on additional skills and an expansion of the John Flynn Prevocational Doctor Program,” she said.

“This will help boost exposure to rural general practice, which is a crucial step in encouraging more doctors to take on a career outside of a major city.

“[However], it is important to keep in mind though that the measures announced today will not solve all the challenges facing rural and regional general practice – we have a long way to go, particularly since general practice has been neglected and underfunded for many years.”

Professor Price stressed the importance of acting on the recommendations arising from the recent report into the provision of GP and related primary health services in outer metro, rural and regional Australia, especially regarding Medicare.

“The committee urged the federal Government to investigate substantially increasing the Medicare rebates for all levels of general practice consultations,” she said.

“Medicare rebates have not kept pace with inflation, let alone the cost of providing high-quality care, and as a result the future viability of general practice is in jeopardy – particularly in rural, regional, and remote areas. That must change because no patient anywhere should be left behind.”

Other initiatives announced include expanding the Murrumbidgee single employer model trial to more regions across rural Australia, and enabling more doctors training to be rural generalist GPs to provide community and hospital-based services such as anaesthetics, obstetrics, mental health and emergency medicine.

GP catchments that were granted Distribution Priority Area (DPA) status under the exceptional circumstances review process will also have their status extended for 12 months from 1 July 2022, giving medical practices in these areas more time to recruit doctors trained overseas to address workforce shortages.