Sep 25, 2023

New employment model sees GP trainees stay in rural and regional areas

Over seven million Australians live in rural or remote areas and struggle to access many healthcare resources due to Government funding and traditional GP wages. [Source: Shutterstock]

An Australian-first rural and regional employment model for General Practitioners (GP) in training has kicked off in Tasmania to help older people in these areas see a GP close to home.

Four of a potential 20 GP trainees began placements in July at medical centres in Deloraine, Burnie, Swansea and Hobart under the Single Employer Model pilot where they had the choice of being employed by the Tasmanian Government throughout their training rotations – reducing key barriers to recruiting and retaining the next generation of GPs.

By having a single contract and employer throughout their training, GPs can access the same salary and leave entitlements, including annual leave, parental leave and sick leave, as their hospital-based peers. 

The employment model also allows for a seamless transition between hospital and GP placements.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Health Minister Mark Butler and Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff announced this new model for rural GPs in training in January 2023 where it was welcomed by The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and The Australian Medical Association (AMA).

Currently, GP registrars, or doctors in training to be GPs, are employed by individual practices. According to Minister Butler, they often have to jump between practices over their five years of training, losing entitlements along the way and getting paid less than hospital trainees.

“This innovative program is making training and working in rural general practice a more attractive option for young doctors and importantly it will make it easier for Tasmanians to see a doctor close to home.”

Tasmanian Health Minister, Guy Barnett, said the pilot was “A significant win for Tasmania as it makes it more financially attractive for doctors specialising in general practice to undertake their training in rural and regional areas.”

“The innovative model is about encouraging more medical practitioners to become GPs by providing job security throughout their training while also strengthening Tasmania’s rural and regional workforce in the long term,” he said. 

Back in January, AMA President Professor Steve Robson said Tasmania suffers from an acute shortage of GPs and this model has the potential to make a long-term difference, delivering better access to GP services for communities across the State.

“The reality is doctors considering entering the GP training program need to grapple with the prospect of a significant cut in wages once they leave the public hospital system, estimated to be around $25k per year, as well as inferior access to personal leave, annual leave, long service leave, and parental leave,” he said. 

In June, a new study by the National Rural Health Alliance (NRHA) suggested we do not allocate enough health spending to resources in rural and remote areas – concluding these areas need around $6.5 billion more of annual spending to ensure our seven million rural residents have access to quality healthcare.

NHRA Chief Executive Susi Tegen told RACGP the figure highlights the “alarming day-to-day realities for rural Australians unable to access equitable care.”

“Over seven million people, who make up nearly a third of Australia’s population, experience a greater burden from illness and early death, in part due to inadequate funding for their healthcare,” she said.

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