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  • Jason Regan

New rural doctors’ agreement a lifeline for regional patients

An agreement between South Australia’s rural doctors and SA Health looks set to secure desperately needed health services in regional communities that have lost or been in danger of losing their local doctors.

The agreement comes following 18 months of negotiations with SA Health’s Rural Support Service (RSS), the Australian Medical Association in South Australia (AMA(SA)) and the Rural Doctors’ Association of SA (RDASA).

RDASA President and Murray Bridge general practitioner (GP) Dr Peter Rischbieth said it was an “extreme relief” to reach a point where RDASA and AMA(SA) believe their members will be able to continue working for their patients and communities.

“Maintaining a local rural doctor workforce in a regional area is the difference between medical services being available and entire services shutting down,” Dr Rischbieth said.
"Losing GP services in country towns results in significant travel times for the members of these communities as well as poorer health outcomes."

AMA(SA) Vice President and Port Lincoln general practitioner Dr John Williams said the new agreement will bring significant benefits to rural communities, including a more sustainable rural doctor workforce.

The agreement provides a minimum guarantee that must be offered to a rural GP who also works with public hospital patients as a Visiting Medical Officer (VMO).

Dr Williams said GP VMOs had been working in these roles without contracts for 19 months, with six rounds of AMA(SA) and RDASA negotiations with RSS needed over 12 months to reach a resolution.

“For many rural doctors, the agreement will change the way their remuneration works, making rural hospital work more comparable in terms of conditions and remuneration to that received by their metropolitan public hospital colleagues,” Dr Williams said.
“It recognises and reflects the on-call and out-of-hours work that rural doctors consistently perform and increases opportunities for us to influence how our local hospitals manage patient care.”

The formal contracts are expected to be available for GPs to consider by 31 January 2022.

“SA Health has agreed to negotiate in the next 12 months, outside of this GP agreement, for further supports for GP Registrars,” Dr Williams said.
“SA Health has also agreed to review the indexation process to align more fairly with CPI changes.”

Key improvements in the new agreement include:

• a South Australian Government injection of more than 20 per cent into the GP Agreement Budget to support the new initiatives

• a sign-up bonus of up to $50,000 for a doctor to work in the more remote areas of the state

• the ability for a doctor to choose either a new sessional (hourly) rate for hospital work or remain with the current fee-for-service structure

• a previously unavailable process that allows a GP to dispute their offer from their Local Health Network and seek modification through a formal process

• better IT and infrastructure to help GPs care for patients efficiently.


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