A Government Scheme to attract young doctors to work in rural areas has failed to realise its potential, with less than half the funds allocated to the HECS Reimbursement Scheme being spent in 2006-07. The scheme offers doctors working in rural and remote areas an opportunity to claim back one fifth of their HECS fees for each year of service in these areas.
The budget for the scheme is around $5.95 million a year, but Medicare Australia's latest annual report shows that only $2.7 million was spent. AMA President, Dr Rosanna Capolingua, said today that country Australia is crying out for young doctors and it's a failure of the scheme if valuable incentives have been left unspent.
"There is something terribly wrong with the system when more than $3 million allocated to help rural health is not used," Dr Capolingua said. "It is clear that the HECS Reimbursement Scheme needs to be redesigned and better promoted to get medical graduates interested in a career in rural medicine.
"The incentive needs to be more attractive."
Dr Capolingua said the failure of the HECS Reimbursement Scheme is indicative of the overall crisis in rural health.
"Somebody has to come out with a big and bold rural health policy in this election campaign," she said.
"We want to see policy that addresses the attraction and retention of rural doctors, and a commitment to support and provide infrastructure for rural hospitals."
The AMA has been calling for a significant revision of the Bonded Medical Places Scheme, which currently offers no incentives for medical students to practice in areas of dire workforce shortage.
The AMA believes that HECS relief should be an upfront and fundamental part of the Bonded Medical Places Scheme, as it stands, to provide students with some tangible incentives and rewards for committing to work in rural and remote communities.