Editorial: Time to act on doctor shortage is now

THE Australia Medical Association’s plan to increase the country’s rural medical workforce will no doubt be welcome news in some ways.

The association wants to increase intake of medical students from rural areas and up the number of students required to complete at least a year of training in a rural area.

Its plan also outlines other measures, from opportunities for doctors’ families, to financial incentives.

Our region is in the grip of a medical emergency, as practices work overtime to fill doctor vacancies.

Like so many things, the association’s plan is great in theory – but when and how will these measures take effect, if at all?

Long-term solutions like the ones above are crucial, but our region’s needs are more urgent. We can’t wait until a year or two down the track when we have lost more doctors and have even more positions unfilled.

Short-term solutions are critical, and not out of our federal government’s reach.

Given everything that has happened in our region in the past year or so and the number of doctor vacancies that exist, it almost beggars belief to know we are not classified as a District of Workforce Shortage.

We have numerous towns without doctors. Some of the vacancies have been unfilled for a few months, others for much longer.

Yet that is not enough to warrant us being zoned as an area of need?

We know – from the Australian Medical Association’s data – that having enough doctors to go around isn’t the problem.

Association chief Michael Gannon said just this week that workforce projections suggested Australia was on track for an oversupply of doctors.

The issue – which people in our region have realised for a long time – is finding people willing to move here to replace doctors who either retire or move to other areas.

We hope Assistant Health Minister David Gillespie’s visit to the region this month will spark the government into action and let them see first-hand what our health providers, community leaders and residents have been telling them for too long – we need their help, and we need it now.

Carly Werner, senior journalist