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Chief Medical Officer statement

Statement by Australian Government Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy

”Australia has one of the best health systems in the world. However, like many other countries, it is under pressure from an ageing population, increasing chronic disease and rising community expectations. As a former nephrologist, I have seen first-hand how much good medical care can impact a person’s life, and want all Australians to be able to access safe and quality care.

Attracting many professions into rural and regional areas can be difficult, and medical professionals are no different.  The vast geography of Australia presents a challenge that requires significant planning and long term activities.

The Australian Government is committed to improving health outcomes for rural Australians and ensuring that all communities have access to the medical care they need. We know that the workforce has grown organically in response to local demand for services, but problems of geographic maldistribution persist despite the efforts of medical workforce planners. People in remote and very remote communities still have access to fewer services than people living in other areas of Australia; this is something we are dedicated to changing.

The Australian Government is currently spending up to $1.4 billion per year on health workforce measures alone.  Further investments are made every day through Medicare and other Primary Care initiatives with a rural focus. The long-standing Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training (RHMT) Program aims to build the rural health workforce. In 2018, around one third of commencing medical students in the RHMT came from a rural background. Building on the RHMT Program, the Murray-Darling Medical Schools Network will enable medical students, for the first time, to undertake almost all of their training in rural settings. Expanded incentives for health professionals to work outside the major cities will put more Australian doctors in rural and remote areas. In addition, the growth of the medical profession will be regulated and overseas trained doctors entering Australia will be directed to work in areas where they are most needed.

We have also funded extra dental, mental health and aeromedical services delivered by the Royal Flying Doctor Service in remote areas, targeted support for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workforce, and a role for nurses. We are determined to strengthen the health workforce to meet Australia’s needs, and provide more opportunities for health professionals to experience the breadth and fulfilment that rural practice can bring.

To ensure we have the right people in locations where they are needed most we have an updated Distribution Priority Area (DPA) system to facilitate placing medical practitioners in communities of greatest need across Australia.  We have used the latest demographic information such as age, gender and socioeconomic status to help determine service needs of each community.  This system will directly support those communities that are most in need.

There is still much to be done to ensure equitable access for all, and while the Commonwealth does not have a direct role in employing health professionals we are deeply committed to working closely with the sector and states and territories to achieve this goal.  No one can solve medical workforce in isolation.  This is why we are working together under the Medical Workforce Reform Advisory Committee to develop a National Medical Workforce Strategy, a collaborative vision for how the investment in individuals, doctors and organisations are best coordinated for Australia’s health system.

As the Chief Medical Officer responsible for health and rural health, I am proud to be part of a Government that is profoundly committed to supporting a first-class health workforce, while bridging the city–country divide so that rural Australians can access the health services they need.”