New incentives for doctors to work in country towns

TOWNS in the Northern Rivers such as Casino and Evans Head are among 450 country towns who will find it easier to attract doctors under an overhauled GP Rural Incentives Program, Page MP Kevin Hogan has said.

Under changes announced by Assistant Minister for Health Fiona Nash, some 450 country towns will receive increased subsidies to attract and retain doctors.

Mr Hogan said an overhauled and much fairer GPRIP would mean smaller rural communities would be able to more easily attract and retain GPs.

"The new GPRIP system will deliver a fairer system for smaller towns; redirecting money to attract more doctors to smaller towns that have genuine difficulty attracting and retaining doctors," he said.

"I'm pleased that towns such as Kyogle and Iluka will benefit from these changes.

"In rural and remote areas, we all know how difficult it can be to attract doctors.

"It made no sense that under the previous system, some $50 million a year was being used to pay incentives for doctors to live in 14 large regional cities, including Townsville (population 175,000) and Cairns (population 145,000). This money will now be spent attracting doctors to towns like Coraki and Casino."

Minister Nash said it made more sense to use the GPRIP funding to attract doctors to where the greatest shortages are - small rural and remote communities, not big regional cities.

"This means bigger incentive payments will go to doctors who choose to work in the areas of greatest need," Minister Nash said.

"For decades, Australia's small rural towns have struggled to attract enough doctors. This change is one way we're tackling that. As a proud rural Australian, I'm pleased to have been able to deliver this important reform."

The highest incentive paid to work in remote Australia will jump from $47,000 a year to $60,000 a year, while the maximum incentive to work in a town of less than 5,000 in regional Australia will increase from $18,000 to $23,000.

In other changes, doctors will be able to take leave from a rural practice for up to five years with no loss of incentive status on their return; Four existing programs have been streamlined into a single GPRIP retention payment; and doctors will need to stay in a rural or regional area longer - two years up from the current six months - before they receive the incentive.

Doctors in remote areas will receive incentive payments after a year.

The new incentive arrangements will start from July 1.

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