Federal Member for Nicholls, Damian Drum, says a new “exceptional circumstances” review process for the Department of Health’s Distribution Priority Area classification system is a common-sense measure to help regions respond to unforeseen workforce and population changes that may be impacting access to local GP services.

Mr Drum has been seeking improvements to the current DPA status of the Goulburn Valley to ensure it recognises recent health service changes in this area.

“I have made representations to the recently appointed Minister for Regional Health, Dr David Gillespie, and I’m pleased he has considered and been able to respond to our concerns with the inclusion of this important new mechanism that provides an opportunity for recent changes across the Goulburn Valley to be assessed,” Mr Drum said.

Dr Gillespie said the DPA classification allowed the Federal Government to identify regions where locals faced an increased challenge to access a GP.

The DPA indicator supports other initiatives that encourage doctors who are subject to location restrictions, such as overseas qualifications, to work in regional and rural areas.

“The Federal Government is acutely aware of the significant shortage of GPs in many areas of regional, rural and remote Australia,” Dr Gillespie said.

“As a regional doctor myself for most of my career, I understand the impact this has on health outcomes and community wellbeing.

“The current DPA system assesses regions annually, using the most up-to-date available data to support approvals for priority access to internationally-trained doctors and bonded doctors.

“I have heard loud and clear the concerns that this approach is not capturing current or emerging local pressures, sudden and unexpected changes and unmet demand.

“So, I have worked with my Department to implement the exceptional circumstances assessment for non-DPA regions with GP service access concerns.

“Anyone in a non-DPA area such as a GP clinic can apply for an assessment.”

Dr Gillespie said an important step in the assessment process was applicants working with, and having the support of, the Rural Workforce Agency in their state or territory.

“RWAs play an important local role in helping medical practices recruit and retain GPs, nurses and other allied health professionals,” Dr Gillespie said.

“In fact, each year they support more than 6000 rural health professionals and 1800 rural practices with tailored solutions to a range of recruitment and retention options.”

Once an applicant has worked with their RWA, they can submit it to the Distribution Working Group for a review of an area’s non-DPA status.

Dr Gillespie said the following factors would be considered alongside an area’s non-DPA status:

  • Support of the local RWA
    • Demonstrating the RWA is working with them to address workforce concerns and that steps have been, or are being, taken to implement RWA advice or support.
  • Changes to health services, workforce, or health system
    • Demonstrating an unexpected large change to the health workforce resulting in a substantial drop in health services to the community that is not recognised in the last DPA update.
  • Patient demographics or changes
    • For areas experiencing changing service arrangements, for example doctor retirements (without replacement), hospital closures or an unexpected sharp increase in population.
    • Where the patient cohort is an underserviced demographic or requires a specialised nature of service.
  • Absence of services
    • Demonstrating difficulties in recruiting or retaining medical practitioners at a scale that is measurably different to similar communities and warrants discretion within health workforce programs.

“If approved, an area will be eligible to access additional programs for that year to support recruitment from a broader pool of doctors,” Dr Gillespie said.

“We are aiming to ensure the process is a speedy one, to quickly help address any GP service shortfall arising from those additional factors.”

The Federal Government is also preparing a formal review of the DPA indicator. Further details of the review will be announced soon.


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