THE Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) has said there is little to be upbeat about for rural communities in the announcement about after hours care by new Minister for Health, Tanya Plibersek.
“It is a case of more of the same for small rural communities where doctors are already providing care 24 hours a day, seven days a week in hospitals and surgeries,” said RDAA President Dr Paul Mara.
“From 1 July 2013, doctors providing this comprehensive service will have thousands of dollars a year ripped out of their practices when funding from the after hours incentives component in the Practice Incentives Program is diverted to Medicare Locals.
“The government is still ignoring the difficulties of attracting doctors with the training, skills and qualifications to meet the needs of country communities and failing to recognise the rural, regional and metropolitan difference,” Dr Mara said.
“The shortage of after hours services in some areas is a result of a fundamental problem with a shortage of doctors and nurses, and these government initiatives will only make this worse.”
Commenting on the after hours helpline Dr Mara said, “Nurses in these small towns, with local knowledge and knowledge of the patients are already providing a fantastic after hours triage service for their communities.
“The helpline is a good idea for someone who is concerned about a minor illness, but it won’t help much in the bush where most of the patients seen after 9 or 10pm are accidents and emergencies that require hospital management.”
RDAA said it also has no confidence in Medicare Locals to meet the needs of small rural towns and report that early indications only heighten their fears.
“The current programs nominated by Medicare Locals are a facade,” said Dr Mara.
“Medicare Locals are not addressing areas with greatest need but simply those that are most politically visible or those that provide an easy, but expensive bureaucratic solution.
“Doctors are dropping out of after hours care in rural areas and there is nothing in these proposals that will change this trend.
“As Divisions of General Practice they have had 20 years to support after hours care and medical workforce in smaller rural communities and have by and large failed, so why should these communities and doctors have any confidence that things will change?
“The Government and Department of Health under Minister Roxon simply failed to listen to the concerns of experienced rural doctors practising at the coal-face and providing comprehensive and continuing services,” Dr Mara said.