Developing the Health Workforce to Meet Community Needs

The Government is continuing its commitment to providing more doctors and better services, especially in country Australia, now and in the future.

Page last updated: 09 May 2006

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9 May 2006

Australia will need a larger skilled workforce of doctors, nurses and other health professionals to meet the needs of an older population. The Government has already expanded the number of medical students by 30 per cent since 2000. The Budget further expands training for doctors and nurses.

Aligning services in rural and remote areas

The Government is committed to improving access to health services in rural and regional areas.

Although rural and remote areas may have a shortage of GPs, there are many existing Commonwealth, state and territory health programmes targeted to particular needs of these communities. In February 2006 the Council of Australian Governments agreed to better align funding for health services with community need in under-serviced areas.

The Commonwealth programmes concerned include the Rural Health Strategy, Regional Health Services, Multipurpose Services, Medical Specialist Outreach Assistance Programme, More Allied Health Services, and the Rural Private Access Programme.

From mid-2006, the Commonwealth, states and territories will each consolidate their respective funding for nominated health programmes in certain agreed rural and remote communities with populations of less than 7,000. This funding will then be used by states and territories or other organisations, in consultation with the Commonwealth, to provide the services which communities need.

This will mean multiple programmes will be replaced by flexible, consolidated funding with planning occurring at the local community level.

More Australian-trained doctors and nurses

The Commonwealth Government will invest almost $250 million over four years to train more doctors and nurses, as part of its contribution to the COAG Health Workforce package, as announced on 8 April 2006.

This will include provision of 400 new medical school places a year, with some of the new places commencing in 2007 and the full 400 available by 2009.

An extra 1,000 new higher education nursing places per year will also be created, commencing from 2007.

To help nurses prepare for work in hospitals and other settings, the Australian Government will also increase its contribution towards the cost of nurses’ clinical training from about $690 to $1,000 a year per full time student for all existing and new student places.

Improving access to primary care services in rural and remote areas

From 1 July 2006, the Government will provide access to Medicare funding for non-admitted GP services in agreed rural and remote towns of less than 7,000 people with a GP workforce shortage. Towns with less than one full time equivalent GP for 1,400 people will be eligible for consideration. This measure forms part of the Government’s contribution to the COAG Health Services package, as announced on 10 February 2006.

It will allow medical officers employed under state salary arrangements to claim from Medicare for providing primary medical care services in rural and remote hospitals and communities.

Private GPs currently receiving state remuneration for treating emergency patients and for outpatient services in small rural and remote hospitals will also be able to claim from Medicare for these services. Doctors employed in community health services and Aboriginal health services will also be eligible to participate in this initiative.

The states and territories have committed to continue support for the local hospital or health facility to ensure there is a net gain to these communities as a result of the measure. Improved access to hospital and support services will also assist in attracting and retaining GPs in rural areas.

Greater use of communication technology to benefit rural and remote communities

"Telehealth" provides a way to overcome the difficulties in access to health care in rural Australia. Using internet technology, some clinical services that are not generally available in non-urban areas can be provided, without onerous travel or delays.

As agreed at COAG on 10 February 2006, a priority for the Commonwealth Government’s Clever Networks e-health programme for rural areas will be to deliver capacity for voice and image transmission alongside data, which can be used to transfer patient information (such as X-rays and scans) via secure internet to improve clinical outcomes. Programme parameters for Clever Networks will be finalised at the end of 2006-07. A total of $113 million is available for Clever Networks for health, education and other essential services.

Media contact: Kate Miranda 0417 425 227

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