Regulations force out two doctors
THE Northern Rivers will lose two dedicated doctors as a result of a discriminatory bureaucratic regulation.
New Zealand-born Jonathan Adams and his British wife Sami have lived and worked as GPs in the region for two years – first in Goonellabah, then at Bangalow, Lennox Head and Mullumbimby.
Now they are being forced to move away from the high-growth Northern Rivers to a ‘specific area of need’ – a remote or rural area, or an unpopular small town.
Instead, the couple has chosen to set up a new home in New Zealand because they want to be ‘masters of their own destiny’, rather than work where they are told.
The two doctors trained at the University of Sydney, but because they were not Australian citizens when they began their course work they became subject to a 10-year moratorium when they finished training.
The 10-year rule makes it impossible for the couple, or for overseas-trained doctors, to qualify as medical service providers – that is, attract Medicare patients – for a10-year period.
The rule is considered by industry professionals to be archaic, especially considering an acute doctor shortage, particularly in rural areas.
New Zealand doctors became exempt from the rule in April and Jonathan could remain and practice here if he wished.
But now Sami has come to the end of her rural training, she would be pushed into one of the ‘specific-need areas’.
The couple always knew this was likely to occur,Jonathan said.
However, they had loved living on the Northern Rivers and would have liked to have had as an option to live and work here for longer.
The 10-year rule enables the Government to place doctors in undesirable areas without having to pay them extra.
“It is more stick than carrot,” Jonathan said.
He said the mechanism also could backfire because practitioners new to Australia were a vulnerable group and individuals could find themselves ‘lost’ in rural areas, without any support from a larger practice.
“The communities where they were sent could suffer as a result,” Jonathan said.
Steve Hambleton, Federal vice-president of the Australian Medical Association, said his organisation wasopposed to the 10-year rule ‘because we’d prefer people to be working in the bush who want to be in the bush’.
The AMA did not support the regulation as a workforce tool, he said.
“We want to see our overseas colleagues appropriately trained and supported when they come to Australia,” Dr Hambleton said.
He said the AMA welcomed the relaxation of the rule for New Zealanders as a ‘first step’ toward less restriction.
Dr Hambleton said hebelieved the Northern Rivers was one of the nation’s areas where there was a shortage of doctors.
“A large number of students are now studying medicine, but we are five years away from seeing that influx come through,” he said.
During that time, the shortages would continue ‘and we need to look after our rural colleagues’, he said.