Government 'created uncertainty for rural doctors'

THE Federal Government has failed to listen to rural doctors over problems with the classification of rural areas for incentives, the outgoing president of the Rural Doctors' Association of Australia, Dr Paul Mara, said on Thursday.

Dr Mara has long campaigned for changes to the Australian Standard Geographical Classification - Remoteness Areas system and District of Workforce Shortage scheme.

At the RDAA annual conference in Perth, Dr Mara fired a parting shot at the Commonwealth, saying despite a review of the program currently under way, the government had wasted five years of opportunity and created uncertainty for rural doctors around the nation.

"The department has now admitted that the massive cost blow-out in the scheme, that is intended to provide incentives to retain doctors in rural areas, was largely the fault of the ASGC-RA," Dr Mara said.

The classification categorises towns and cities around the country according to certain population statistics, but the measure means smaller rural towns are often given the same incentives as larger centres like Townsville or Hobart.

"This $35 million blow-out was money that could have been better targeted and better spent," Dr Mara said.

"They simply didn't listen and have caused enormous damage."

During the rural medicine conference, Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, who has been leading an inquiry into rural health, said the inquiry committee had heard widespread condemnation of the ASGC-RA, with the overwhelming message that the system needed to be replaced.

On the District of Workforce Shortage scheme, Dr Mara said many small rural towns were missing out on another scheme - the Bonded Medical Places scheme, due to the "on-again off-again DWS scheme".

Incoming RDAA President, Queenslander Dr Sheilagh Cronin, said that fixing both the classification scheme and DWS scheme would continue to be high priorities for the association.

She said she would also "value the opportunity" to meet with Health Minister Tanya Plibersek to discuss those issues and provide some potential solutions, early in her tenure.

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