Assistant Health Minister Senator Fiona Nash plans to fix a broken health system.
Assistant Health Minister Senator Fiona Nash plans to fix a broken health system.

Exclusive: How Fiona Nash will fix regional doctor shortage

FIXING the broken incentive scheme for doctors to come to regional Australia will be the top priority for Assistant Health Minister Senator Fiona Nash this year.

The Abbott Government's minister responsible for rural and regional health, Sen Nash said fixing the geographical classification system that governs incentives to encourage doctors to leave the city was the most important issue facing rural health this year.

The Australian Standard Geographical Classification - Remoteness Area (ASGC-RA) effectively decides whether doctors can access payments from $2500 a year to move to an inner regional area up to $13,000 for working in a very remote area.

Regional work force issues and how to improve the incentive scheme is my priority this year.

But long-standing problems have dogged the system since it was introduced in 2001, because it pays the same rates to doctors working in some major regional cities as those in some smaller, more remote towns.

"The previous (Howard) government put in place the incentives program to help ensure doctors move to regional areas, but it actually pays the same incentives for doctors to go to a town of 2000 to those who might move to a major town of 60,000," Sen Nash said.

"Addressing that and other regional workforce issues and how to improve the incentive scheme is my priority this year."

While Sen Nash was part of a Senate inquiry last year that closely examined the issue, she said she would not be rushing to meet a deadline this year - instead focussing on "getting it right".

"What we have after many years of not enough doctors in Australia, is we now have enough, but the problem for rural and regional areas is we have a maldistribution, they largely reside in the cities, but it's my target that by the end we will be able to say there are better outcomes for rural health," Sen Nash said.

"You don't want to reinvent the wheel, but we also need to look with fresh eyes at why aren't we getting more allied health professionals and doctors in regional areas, and what can be done better."

Sen Nash said she would also be focused on improving mental health, nutrition and food labelling as chair of the Food Ministers Council.



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