Labor has failed to deliver on a key incentive to alleviate the regional health workforce crisis, Shadow Assistant Minister for Regional Health Anne Webster says.
Almost five months after the legislation passed parliament, a Coalition-era policy of reducing or waiving doctor or nurse practitioner HELP debts if they practice in the regions is still not a reality.
The bill received Royal Assent on February 20 but Labor has failed to operationalise this program.
“The health workforce shortage is a key contributor to the poor mortality and morbidity rates experienced in regional Australia compared to urban centres,” Dr Webster said.
“It only took the stroke of a pen after the 2022 election for Health Minister Mark Butler to expand the Distribution Priority Areas, bleeding the regions of doctors, but now a measure to incentivise doctors to move to the regions is getting bogged down in bureaucratic delay.
“Regional Australians are crying out for doctors and nurses, how long does Minister Butler think the regions can wait?”
Data from Medical Deans Australia and New Zealand suggests 69 per cent of Australian graduates from a rural background in 2014 were working in a metropolitan area in 2020. The latest report shows seven per cent intend to practice in small towns or communities.
The Grattan Institute reports there are 40 per cent less General Practitioners in the regions compared to the cities.
“These are statistics that can be turned around with more incentives for health practitioners to work in the regions,” Dr Webster said.
“This was a Coalition-era initiative and Labor have dragged their feet on the delivery – at a cost to the health of regional Australians. It’s not good enough.”