Australian rural doctors who specialize in surgery, obstetrics and gynecology will get a $15,000 annual handout from the federal Government just to continue the work they are already doing.
The Government has doubled incentives to push general practitioners who carry out procedures conducted by specialists in the city, in a move that will cost taxpayers an extra $5.2million each year.
Almost 800 GPs participate in the incentive program.
Australian health minister Tony Abbott said the Government recognized the higher cost of delivering services to rural areas and wanted to make sure rural doctors performing additional duties continued their work in remote communities.
"This is an important measure for rural communities relying on experienced general practitioners to keep local hospitals running."
The Rural Doctors Association's Andrew Slutzkin says the extra money will make a big difference to regional practices. "It's terrific that the Federal Government has actually upped the ante in relation to procedural doctors," Dr Slutzkin said. "They understand how critically short they are in the country."
The Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA), who welcomed the moves, said now the states and territories had to make a firm commitment to ensure the survival of rural hospitals. "Now the ball is in the state government's court," RDAA vice president Peter Rischbieth said.
Mr Abbott has also announced plans to create a new Medicare item for antenatal checks carried out by qualified nurses, midwives and registered Aboriginal health workers in rural Australia. The plan would enable pregnant women to claim Medicare rebates for antenatal checks in rural and remote areas. The rebate is expected to be about $18.
The move, expected to be introduced within the next six months, would add about $5 million to the annual cost of Medicare.
Dr Rischbieth said the new measures recognised the value and commitment of rural doctors to local communities.
"However, there is no point in producing and maintaining a highly skilled procedural workforce if the rural maternity units or hospitals where they work are closed to save money," he said.
"We look for real commitments from our state and territory governments to maintain our small rural hospitals and communities."