In light of the workforce doctor shortage in Port Augusta, federal Minister for Rural Health Bridget McKenzie ensured high-quality healthcare in regional and rural areas is a key priority.
Australian Medical Association (AMA) representatives declared plans to advocate for more general practitioners in Port Augusta during a visit at the end of July.
AMA State President Associate Professor William Tam said the shortage is a “crisis situation that needs to be dealt with now”, but Ms McKenzie believes the $550 million Stronger Rural Health Strategy will deliver more doctors and health professionals in regional areas.
“It will deliver 3000 more highly qualified doctors, more than 3000 nurses and hundreds more allied health professionals into the regions over the next 10 years,” Ms McKenzie said.
Local medical professionals have been vocal about their concerns regarding the shortage in Port Augusta, with just 10 full-time equivalent GPs employed in a town nearing 14,000 people.
Despite the low number of GPs, Port Augusta is not considered a District of Workforce Shortage (DWS), which is a classification that identifies an area as having below average access to doctors.
Ms McKenzie said DWS status is based on the services delivered by practitioners.
“As the town is not a District of Workforce Shortage, medical practices in the area are unable to employ some restricted medical practitioners,” she said.
“However, they may still employ non‑restricted vocationally recognised general practitioners with Fellowship of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners or the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine.”
The government established a Distribution Working Group to provide recommendations to improve the DWS classification system.
The group is compiled of representatives from the AMA, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Rural Doctors Association of Australia and the Rural Health Commissioner.
Ms McKenzie said DWS classifications would be updated in February 2019.
“ … If doctors have left Port Augusta during 2017-18, it will be reflected in data used for the next update,” she explained.
Ms McKenzie clarified that while Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) doctors are issues with Medicare Provider Numbers, the services they deliver do not affect the DWS calculation in any area.
The Modified Monash Model – established in 2016 to address the maldistribution of medical services across Australia – listed Port Augusta in the Modified Monash (MM) 4 category for ‘medium regional’ towns.
Small towns surrounding Port Augusta have been assigned to the MM 6 category for ‘remote’ areas.