LABOR'S rural health proposal to apply the same classifications to some metro and outer-metro areas as rural and remote regions has been labelled a "terrible policy" by the Rural Doctors of Australia Association.
If elected, Labor has promised to expand the overseas trained and bonded doctor access to Medicare, which the party's health spokesperson Mark Butler said would make it easier for thousands of Australians in outer suburbs and the regions to see a general practitioner .
"Access to GP services shouldn't be reserved for those that live in our biggest cities," Mr Butler said.
"This will make it easier for Australians to see a GP in large parts of outer-metro and regional Australia, including Cairns, Townsville, Kiama, Torquay and Two Rocks, among others.
"The Senate inquiry is progressively identifying areas of chronic GP shortages. Where there are endemic shortages we will continue to act."
However, Rural Doctors Association of Australia president Dr Megan Belot said it was a "categorically a terrible policy announcement" and Labor had ignored all the advice from rural peak bodies and "any rural doctor at all, who could have told them how bad it was".
Dr Belot said the party had completely missed the point of the presentations made to the Senate inquiry about access to GPs, and were now promising a policy change that would suck desperately needed GPs out of rural and remote areas, and into metro and outer metro areas.
"There are many regions in Australia that are struggling to attract doctors," Dr Belot said.
"But to apply the same classifications to metro and outer-metro areas to rural and remote areas is lazy policy and a terrible solution. It just rips off rural to buy city votes.
"Rural workforce shortages and metro workforce shortages provide two very different challenges that need targeted solutions. Diverting doctors who are providing care for rural communities into large regional and metro areas is definitely not it."
The Labor proposal would expand the areas that International Medical Graduates and bonded doctors - who gained entry to medical school in return for a commitment to work in an area of need - can work by designating all regional centres, plus some metro areas, as Distribution Priority Areas for GPs.
IN OTHER NEWS:
Dr Belot said the DPAs were designed to ensure doctors were available to address the "very real mal-distribution of our medical workforce" and support communities that are very difficult to recruit to.
"For Labor to come in and just say 'well now, we think that all large regional areas, plus some metro areas, should also be classified as DPA' highlights their lack of understanding," Dr Belot said.
"The vast majority of doctors limited by DPA are IMGs. Many choose to work in a rural area for their required term while their family remains in the city where they fully intend to return to once their provider number becomes unrestricted.
"As a direct result of this policy many IMGs, who right now are providing much needed care to rural and remote communities, will relocate closer to their home where they can daily commute, and at the same time make it much more difficult for them to be replaced."
RDAA has written to Mr Butler to request an urgent meeting to address the issues the policy would create for rural and regional areas.