THE Rural Doctors Association of SA is renewing its push for the state government to establish a rural generalist training pathway, at a time when there are 66 GP vacancies advertised on the Rural Doctors Workforce Agency.
RDASA president Peter Rischbieth recently met with rural-based Members of Parliament to speak about the critical workforce shortage.
"There is evidence of increased economic dividends of investing in rural health care, increased life expectancy and increased school participation," he said.
"We already know the life expectancy is two years less if you live in a rural area, compared with metro."
Dr Rischbieth said as well as the high numbers of vacancies across the state at the moment, studies showed there needed to be 53 new doctors moving into rural SA each year to keep up with demand.
He said despite an election commitment from the government, SA was still the only state without a rural generalist training pathway, and was losing potential rural doctors interstate.
In August, the state government announced it was rolling out its draft Rural Health Workforce Plan, with consultation into September.
Our job is to try and reach junior doctors and say 'come out and join us on a great career path', but we haven't got the nuts and bolts set up in SA.
Rural Support Service principal policy officer Robyn Anderson said this plan was aimed at addressing the ongoing challenges within the SA rural medical workforce.
She said during consultation, about 300 rural clinicians attended 25 workshops across the state, to ensure they were engaged in informing the strategies documented in the plan.
"Many would like to see greater exposure to rural training opportunities for medical students and junior doctors, as well as the establishment of a rural generalist training pathway in SA made a priority," she said.
She said the feedback would be taken into consideration, with the final plan expected next month.
Dr Rischbieth said the plan was a start but had not translated into a clear message to attract young doctors to work in rural SA.
We also found that trainees who spend longer times in rural areas report more positive experiences and greater intention to work rurally.
"They need to allocate resources, as promised in 2018, for teaching hospitals in country areas," he said.
"If they did this, it's a clear message that rural SA is going to have a medical workforce.
"International medical graduates have been a great medical resource but we want a system built on our own medical students working alongside us."
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From 2020, 12 intern positions will be available in rural SA, with six postgraduate training positions in Mount Gambier and another four in the Spencer Gulf.
Dr Rischbieth said the Rural Doctors Association of Australia had a national campaign to attract junior doctors, called #DestinationRural.
"Our job is to try and reach junior doctors and say 'come out and join us on a great career path', but we haven't got the nuts and bolts set up in SA," he said.
Health Minister Stephen Wade said the government was committed to ensuring regional South Australians were provided with "quality health services".
"A key part of delivering on this commitment is the investment of $20 million towards a Rural Health Workforce Strategy, including the development of a Rural Generalist Pathway," he said.
"This policy was taken to the 2018 election, and I reiterated our commitment to rural generalism at the Rural Doctors Association Masterclass on August 24.
"This work will be led by a unit within Rural Support Services, which will seek to use some of the (state) government's commitment of $62.2m over four years to develop a national Rural Generalist Pathway to fast track the roll out."
Mr Wade said there had already been some early signs of success with the workforce strategy.
"We have doubled the number of medical interns in the country and have been supporting the rollout of telehealth to support health professionals working in regional and remote areas," he said.
"In parallel with the Rural Health Workforce Strategy, the Marshall Liberal government has committed more than $140m over 10 years for capital works to improve regional hospital and health infrastructure, and $6.9m to deliver additional chemotherapy services in regional areas - allowing patients to receive life saving treatment closer to home."
Mr Wade said the government was delivering on its commitments to address country services, including the establishment of the Rural Generalist Pathway.
"I ask the Rural Doctors Association to work with this government in this endeavour," he said.
A national study, released this week by the University of Qld, shows longer rural doctor postings and more rural training positions are needed to gain the right skills.
UQ's Rural Clinical School head Sarah Strasser said the findings showed rural medicine was a distinct practice.
"We now have data showing that rural physicians have a unique mix of general medicine and sub-specialist skills compared with metropolitan-based physicians," she said.
"We also found that trainees who spend longer times in rural areas report more positive experiences and greater intention to work rurally.
"Encouraging trainees to return is reliant on strong leadership, high quality programs and flexibility around family and lifestyle matters."
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