As we have seen all too clearly in recent times, attracting and retaining health professionals, particularly general practitioners (doctors) to our towns, is a challenge.
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to meet with and speak to the Rural Doctors Association of South Australia on this very topic.
The delivery of health services to country areas is a priority of the new government, and we went to the March election with a raft of related policies. These included fixing the backlog in country hospital capital works, engaging communities and clinicians for better health, expanding country cancer services and undertaking a state-wide assessment of unmet palliative care.
Our plan is also to decentralise the public health system through the establishment of regional boards of management.
This will effectively dismantle Country Health SA as we know it, with the new boards having control of the health budget for the geographical area covered. Health Advisory Councils (HACs) will remain.
A further key policy provides $20 million to develop and implement a Rural Health Workforce Plan in order to recruit, train and develop the health professionals and skilled volunteers needed to deliver country health services.
We will need to work closely with the Commonwealth to maximise training opportunities in country areas.
Cowell and Kimba have had difficulties maintaining GPs. Kimba remains without a resident doctor, as does Streaky Bay.
Streaky has come up with a model whereby the district council has taken responsibility for the practice. Locums are servicing the town, and the council via a committee are actively searching for a resident doctor.
There is a suggestion Port Lincoln may have a deficit of up to 10 doctors. It is a critical issue.
The Eyre Peninsula Local Government Association (EPLGA) has established a health working group, tasked with identifying the issues in recruiting and retaining health professionals. I hope to be a part of this group, which plans to have active dialogue with local doctors about developing future sustainable models.
Key to the new models will be the provision of training pathways that introduce younger doctors to the opportunities of working in country areas.
Member for Flinders