Rural GPs granted $50m for teaching facilities

General practitioners in rural and remote areas will be able to apply for up to $300,000 of Commonwealth funding to build or expand their teaching facilities from today.

The Federal Government said at least 175 grants will be allocated over the next three years from total funding of $52.5 million.

“This investment in general practice and the primary care workforce will not only strengthen the general practice workforce, but [will] also enhance the training of doctors, GP registrars and medical students in regional and rural settings,” Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash said.

President of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) Dennis Pashen said the funding was welcome.

“The practices use the money to provide additional rooms for the students to see patients in, lecture space, library resources, which includes a lot of online computer-based teaching within the practice,” Dr Pashen told AM.

But he said he was “certain” the requirement to match the money from the Government would be a disincentive for some practices.

“Particularly those that are struggling, but often what it would allow would be additional infrastructure in that practice, and it might be that you’ll have a couple of rooms for students and young doctors in there, but it’ll also give you, if you match that money, it’ll give you improved teaching resources locally, and increased space for patients to come in,” he said.

“There are good opportunities there in a lot of ways.”

Funding will not replace need for placement programs: doctors

Federal Opposition spokesman Stephen Jones said Labor provided more than twice that amount for similar infrastructure projects when it was in Government.

“Our complaint is not that the Government is spending money on infrastructure – we spent a lot of money on rural infrastructure – the complaint is they’ve shut down a very successful program to fund the additional spending,” Mr Jones told AM.

That pre-vocational program for young doctors will wind up at the end of this year but Dr Pashen said there were hopes it would be replaced.

He said the new infrastructure money did not necessarily replace the need for placement programs.

“We’re still urging the Government to consider programs similar to the PGPPP (Prevocational General Practice Placements Program), the pre-vocational training program,” Dr Pashen said.

“That was an enormously successful program that was in place and the Government has committed that that will cease.

“We’re hoping that either the states [will provide programs] or there will be alternative programs from the Commonwealth that will actually allow that continuity of contact with young doctors in rural communities.”

While the pre-vocational program is winding up, the Government is adding 300 places to a post-graduate program, the Australian General Practice Training Program.

But Dr Pashen and Labor’s Stephen Jones said the PGPPP has been proven to work.

“That was a very strong recruitment strategy, and a lot of these people stuck in to rural communities,” Dr Pashen said.

“If people get a taste of rural life, and of rural practice before they finish their training they can work out whether it’s for them, it actually saves the Government money in the long term because you’re not continually churning through trainee doctors in regional areas and rural areas. That’s why it was a very successful program.” Mr Jones said.

“It was relatively cheap in terms of the overall health spend, and doctors, and rural communities can’t understand why it’s been axed.”