The Aboriginal Health Council of Western Australia (AHCWA) has welcomed a Federal Government decision to abandon immediate plans to further limit salary support for rural doctors.
The decision comes after Aboriginal Medical Services in WA and the NT publicly opposed the restrictions and called for a moratorium on implementing any changes until the department conducted a full review of the program.
Currently, GP Registrars who are completing their training in Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS) have their full salary paid by the Federal Government for up to three years.
However, the government had proposed removing support for the most experienced GP registrars (Advanced Rural Skills Training ‘ARST’ placements).
The proposal prompted concerns from AHCWA that it would not only lead to a decreased pool of senior GP Registrars participating in training over this period, but also threaten the placements of entry-level Registrars, who rely on mentoring support provided by these more senior and experienced Registrars.
The council also warned that any reduction in salary support to these experienced GP Registrars would have a lasting detrimental impact on training capacity, workforce retention and continuity of care in the sector.
AHCWA Chairperson Michelle Nelson-Cox said the Federal Government had made the right decision to suspend plans to limit salary support and instead undertake a review of the system.
“The work of experienced doctors who contend with the complex medical needs of Aboriginal patients in rural WA is highly valued,” Ms Nelson-Cox said.
“It imperative we retain capable doctors to ensure Aboriginal people living in rural WA have access to the best possible medical care.”
The ACCHS sector is recognised as being a leader in the training of GP Registrars, who develop a greater skill set and cultural expertise than those exposed only to mainstream settings.
“We welcome the Department’s commitment to undertake a substantial review of the salary support program to not only ensure its effectiveness, but also enhance it,” said Ms Nelson-Cox.
“The program had significantly improved training and health outcomes in the Aboriginal health sector; built upon the cultural expertise of our GP workforce; and, subsequently the health outcomes of Aboriginal patients.
“As such, it has been an important contributor to achieving the aims outlined in our Closing the Gap commitments.”
Ms Nelson-Cox said whilst this recent review was a positive step, there had been consistent attempts by the Department to limit support provided by the programme since 2014.
In particular, the incremental changes implemented by the Department since 2015 have resulted in a significant decrease in the uptake of experienced Registrar placements in the program.
“In 2015 there were 163 ARST placements,” Ms Nelson-Cox said. “That shrunk to 77 in 2016, and currently for 2017 there are only 4 confirmed placements.
“Whilst it will take time to reverse the negative impacts of recent policy changes made by the Department to the program, AHCWA looks forward to working with the Department through the review to ensure the 2018 program is as effective as it can and should be,” she said.