General News

19 August, 2022

Towns lose out in GP priority move

A KEY change to the way GPs can be recruited has been implemented by the Federal Government but while the move will benefit larger urban areas such as Cairns, it will come at the expense of towns like Mareeba and Atherton.

Towns lose out in GP priority move - feature photo

 An update of the Distribution Priority Area (DPA) classification system will now recognise 700 areas with either full or partial DPA classification including Cairns and Townsville, meaning practices will be able to recruit GPs from a much wider pool of doctors.

Previously, the GPs would have been required to work up to 10 years in rural towns and remote communities before they could work regional centres, meaning towns like Atherton and Mareeba could now end up last on the priority list.

Rural Doctors Association of Australia president Dr Megan Belot said it was extremely disappointing to see Labor persisting with the policy change, despite strong opposition from rural doctors. 

"To introduce this change, without the implementation of rural specifi c policies to address the very real issue of the maldistribution of the medical workforce across Australia, is very concerning for the future of rural general practice,” she said. 

“We are fearful for rural communities right across Australia who are now at extreme risk of losing their doctors as they take up positions closer to the cities, abandoning their rural and remote patients who will be left with no access to care close to home at all.

“At best this policy change will mean vacant positions will be filled in outer metro while rural and remote will continue to struggle. At worst it will drain the overseas trained GPs who currently work in rural and remote areas into the cities, further reducing access to medical services for rural patients.

“This will cost lives of rural and remote patients who already suffer poorer health outcomes than their city counterparts.

“A lack of medical care means conditions go undiagnosed, patients suffer through long waiting times, and are forced to travel, which is costly and sometimes dangerous, depending on their health condition.”

RDAA is currently waiting on a request to meet with Minister for Health Mark Butler, and DPA will be a key point of discussion for the organisation.

RDAA says that expanding DPAs mean that the policy is no longer fit-for-purpose to address rural health workforce shortages and will be advocating for significant reform to replace DPA. 

“Policies need to provide real solutions to address the issue of access to quality medical services,” Dr Belot said. 

“We will be working hard to develop new policies to ensure that rural communities are able to compete with metro and large regional areas to attract the doctors they need to provide desperately needed care to rural patients.”


MUM Nicola Ross put a plea to Member for Hill Shane Knuth for help on Facebook after what happened to her last week which brought an avalanche of comments from others who had experienced a similar situation.

“Our community and its resources have been pushed to a near breaking point with the influx of a large number of new residents since Covid started. 

“Today we needed to get an appointment with a GP for our four-month-old. With the recent closure of our regular clinic, I called every other GP on the Atherton Tablelands trying to get an appointment to get a script.

“There was not a single clinic available to take our baby as a new patient.

“Over half of the clinics I called recommended to either drive to Cairns to see a doctor or visit the Emergency Department at the hospital. 

“Shane Knuth, we are in a crisis situation with at a guess close to 2500 people without a Dr on the Atherton Tablelands. Two clinics in Atherton cannot cope, the hospital won’t cope…..the other surrounding doctors won’t cope. Something needs to be done. Please.”


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