Rockhampton Hospital. Photo: Chris Ison / The Morning Bulletin
Rockhampton Hospital. Photo: Chris Ison / The Morning Bulletin Chris Ison

When $100k is not enough to attract medical experts to Rocky

INCENTIVES worth up to $100,000 are failing to fill Rockhampton's desperate medical shortfall.

The Federal Government is offering HECS debt rebates worth about $60,000; relocation grants of $15,000; and $26,500 in retention grants for anaesthetists, cardiologists and psychiatrists.

The bonuses are designed to plug the region's medical gaps and ensure residents get the same healthcare as people living in metropolitan areas.

But two of the country's leading health experts say more needs to be done.

AMA federal vice-president Stephen Parnis said Rockhampton residents were paying the price as practitioner positions went begging.

"There are still many areas in regional Australia where you can't attract and retain the types of doctors that are needed," Dr Parnis said.

"Really when you look at almost every single health outcome they show that people in rural and regional Australia have poorer outcomes than their city counterparts.

"Some of that will be related to accessing medical services.

Rural Doctors Association of Australia president Professor Dennis Pashen said any moves to slash Medicare rebates would see young doctors struggling to build sustainable businesses in regional areas.

The Abbott government recently pushed for a $20 cut to the Medicare rebate for short GP consultations.

The cut, just one in a raft of mooted Medicare changes, was expected to save $1.3 billion across four years.

But the plan was dumped after a major backlash.

"If young doctors have come through our pipeline and at the end of it there's a less attractive business model and they can earn just as much, if not more, in a metropolitan community then they're going to take that option," Prof Pashen said.

He said metropolitan areas were reaping the benefits of the rural and regional incentive program.

"If you want people in outer metropolitan areas you set up a program to get them in those areas," he said.

"You don't take rural incentive program money and make it very attractive for people in outer metropolitan areas because that actually defeats the purpose of the policy."

AMA Queensland president Shaun Rudd said the Federal Government was on the right track.

"It's a work in progress and it's progressing very well," Dr Rudd said of the push to fill the gaps.

Healthy incentives

Federal Government incentives to attract doctors to the Rockhampton region:

Doctors can reduce their return of service obligation under the Bonded Medical Places Scheme and Medical Rural Bonded Scholarships Schemes by 10%.

Overseas trained doctors: The 10-year Medicare moratorium restrictions will be reduced to nine years.

HECS Reimbursement Scheme: an amount equivalent to a medical HECS debt will be repaid over five years. This could save doctors $50,000-$60,000.

Relocation grants: Doctors who relocate from metropolitan areas may be eligible for a relocation grant of $15,000.

Doctors who practise in the region can earn the following retention grants1 year = $2500, 2 = $4500, 3-4 = $7500, 5+ = $12,000

"There are lots of incentives and there are more students, more doctors, coming through so that will make a difference."