Chair of the AMA Rural Reference Group (AMARRG), Dr David Rivett, said today that this week's announcement by Transport Minister, Warren Truss, of enhancements to the Rural Medical Infrastructure Fund (RMIF) was a welcome piece of rare good news for rural health.
Dr Rivett said the RMIF is designed to attract GPs to work in country areas and keep them there and the top-up to the scheme shows that the Government is getting serious about regional medical workforce shortages.
"I think it's important that the Government promotes greater awareness of this fund so that local government bodies take up the funding and use it strategically," Dr Rivett said.
"The AMA strongly supports this program but stresses it should only be targeted at areas where there are currently no doctors. It shouldn't be competing with existing medical services.
"If the RMIF can attract just a handful of extra doctors to work and live in country towns where there are no doctors it is doing its job because it's reversing the trend.
"The AMA understands that the RMIF has not been as successful as hoped, with spending targets not having been met over the last 12 months, so let's hope the extra funding will act as a catalyst to get things moving again.
"It is vital that the local divisions of general practice get heavily involved in the RMIF to make it work.
"This is core business for the divisions and they must actively bid for these funds to provide infrastructure and support for potential new doctors in their areas.
"The lack of 'bricks and mortar', medical equipment, and family and social support networks has always been a disincentive for doctors considering a move to the country, so the RMIF should be used to overcome these hurdles.
"Community medical facilities that are established and run by rural councils or other rural stakeholder and community groups are an attractive alternative.
"They offer many advantages to doctors seeking short to medium-term work in rural areas, and can also encourage more doctors to practise in the bush for the long haul.
"The increase in the funding cap from $200,000 to $400,000 is a welcome move that properly recognises the significant cost of setting up a rural practice.
"The AMA will use its GP and rural medicine networks to build awareness of the RMIF and urge doctors to give country medicine a try," Dr Rivett said.