Shadow Assistant Minister for Regional Health Anne Webster says while the scrapping of the Visas for GPs program may streamline the recruitment of international doctors, more needs to be done to address the Albanese Labor Government’s regional healthcare failures.
Under the program, regional and rural GP practices that sought to hire overseas-trained doctors had to satisfy the government they had been unable to recruit locally, while international doctors were required to submit a Health Workforce Certificate or Health Workforce Exemption Certificate from an employer as part of their sponsored visa application.
“Abolishing this program takes away some of the red tape being faced by regional practices trying to recruit doctors from overseas,” Dr Webster said.
“However, unless Health Minister Mark Butler strikes out his expansion of the Distribution Priority Areas that he enacted last year, regional Australia will see no net gain in doctors from this latest decision.
“That expansion was one of Minister Butler’s first decisions since taking office and it saw a 57% increase in International Medical Graduate doctors moving away from regional areas in just six months to the end of 2022 according to Senate Estimates. Labor bled the regions of doctors and has now offered a bandaid.”
Labor’s policy move comes after the interim Kruk Report found that despite a record 852,272 health practitioners being registered in Australia last year, demand absolutely outstrips supply.
“The final Kruk Report was expected by mid 2023, but it already shows how dire the situation is and the need for urgent policy to address regional health workforce shortages,” Dr Webster said. “This is why I convened the Mildura Regional Health Workforce Summit in March this year, to bring peak bodies and the grassroots health workforce together to work collaboratively on solutions, and why I am pleased the National Federal Conference backed my motion to cap Medicare Provider Numbers in metropolitan areas to encourage doctors to take up active provider numbers in rural, regional and remote Australia.”
On top of this, Dr Webster has been meeting with the specialist training colleges pushing for more rural training in their fields to bolster medical professional numbers outside of Australia’s cities.
“It has been proven when students train in regional areas they are more likely to stay, on the other hand when a regional student moves to the city to study it becomes hard to attract them back to the regions,” Dr Webster said. “Labor is yet to provide solutions or incentives to increase rural training numbers, for General Practitioners or Specialists.”