Health industry urges reform on rural doctor scheme

IN WHAT may be a sign action has not been taken on a flawed rural doctors' incentive scheme, the health industry has urged the Abbott government to finally replace the failed system.

The Rural Doctors Association of Australian was this week joined by the Australian Medical Association in its calls to address the rural incentive scheme.

The Australian Standard Geographic Classification - Remoteness Areas (ASGC-RA) system has seen doctors in bigger regional cities given the same amount of incentives as those in tiny remote towns.

This has led to many doctors claiming the incentive payments to work in larger cities, with smaller towns unable to compete to attract doctors.

RDAA president Dr Ian Kamerman, who earlier this year was hopeful of action, this week said the system was still causing hardship for smaller rural communities.

"Rural doctors provide a wide and vital range of services in these smaller communities" he said. "The doctor you see in their practice is often the same one delivering your baby or treating your heart attack at the local hospital," he said.

"A classification system that cannot take this into account-and tell the difference between Townsville and Tumut, or Cairns and Cowra-is obviously flawed.

"There is an urgent need to fix the current system-until this is done, many smaller rural towns will continue to face an uphill battle in terms of recruiting and retaining doctors."

AMA president Dr Steve Hambleton joined the call, saying he knew Health Minister Peter Dutton and Assistant Minister Fiona Nash was "well aware of the significant drawbacks" of the system.

"But action is now long overdue, and rural doctors and rural communities are starting to wonder how long they are going to have to wait to see some improvements," he said.

Senator Nash, who is responsible for rural health, has previously said it was her top priority this year to address the system, but has been unable to identify a deadline for action to be taken.