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RACGP Rural helping to get GPs out to Tasmania


Michael Clements


5/07/2021 3:05:47 PM

A recent three-day tour meeting members and stakeholders is the first step in addressing workforce shortages, writes Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements.

Dr Michael Clements with medical students.
RACGP Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements with fifth year medical students at the University of Tasmania Rural Clinical School.

My travels around the country meeting with RACGP members and stakeholders have revealed a number of differences in the way various state and territory health systems are structured.
 
While a large part of primary care in the Northern Territory is provided by the hospital and Aboriginal Medical Services, in Tasmania it is community general practices that provide the bulk of primary care services, with GPs playing a central role in their communities.
 
But even though there are differences, there are even more similarities, and the main concern on everyone’s mind is rural workforce shortages and the viability of general practice going forward.
 
One step we have taken as a college to address workforce concerns is our Practice to Practice pilot program, which I am proud to say received great support from Tasmania’s rural workforce agency HR+.
 
After pitching the concept, they immediately committed to facilitating relationships between our urban and rural practices by agreeing to pay the travel expenses of any GP that registers their interest with the program and identifies a Tasmanian general practice they would like to offer their services to.
 
So, a GP can go and visit that practice, meet who they would be working with, and explore the community with no obligation to do locum work while there; it is literally a site visit to encourage you to develop that relationship.
 
I have also been in talks with workforce agencies in both the Northern Territory and Queensland, and would like to see them adopt similar approaches, because if we can support our GPs by covering travel and accommodation expenses I think this program will really get some legs.
 
In fact, there are members who are already reaping the benefits of the Practice to Practice model. Dr Sarah McLay, a solo GP in Clermont, Queensland, is among them. After putting the call out for some assistance, she has been drawing on the services of a Brisbane-based GP who, currently on maternity leave, has been offering her skills to support patients via telehealth.
 
While it may not be as good as face-to-face care, in a collaborative relationship like the one Dr McLay has established, it has proved to be a wonderful service embraced by the community, as well as a wonderful extra support for Dr McLay.
 
That is exactly what we have been hoping to see from the Practice to Practice program.
 
During my stay, I spent two days in Hobart where I met with members of the Tasmanian Faculty and heard about the wonderful work they are doing, as well as their concerns, before heading to Burnie.
 
There I met with University of Tasmania Rural Clinical School Director and RACGP Rural Council Tasmania representative, Dr Lizzi Shires, and had the chance to speak with the fifth year medical students. Tasmania has a very strong tradition of training RACGP GPs with a rich learning environment, and they have a supportive workforce agency to support rural placements.
 
I also stopped by 2020 RACGP Supervisor of the Year, Dr Jim Berryman’s Wynyard practice, which was named Practice of the Year by the RACGP – and I can certainly see why. It is a beautiful and welcoming space, offering excellent services to the community.
 
A particular concern expressed, however, was the issue around distribution priority area (DPA) status, which many towns have lost, leaving practices in non-DPA areas at a disadvantage. And so one of the key messages I received was that as a college, we need to support our general practices that find themselves on the wrong side of DPA changes, and we need to be able to advocate for them and have a means by which we can have those decisions reviewed.

Michael-Clements-column-article.jpg
RACGP Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements and Tasmanian Faculty Chair Dr Tim Jackson also spoke to 7 News to advocate the importance of primary care in the state.

RACGP President Dr Karen Price is certainly advocating for GPs to be directly involved in the review process to ensure there are no anomalies that hurt workforce.
 
The college is perfectly place for this advocacy, and our strength is in our membership. With more than 40,000 members, including almost 10,000 living in rural and remote areas, it is our GPs’ insights and advice that help to guide us in supporting the general practice workforce.
 
And our position is such that we have the platform to share those experiences to advise health ministers on what works, and what doesn’t.
 
That’s precisely what I did when meeting with Tasmania’s Deputy Premier and Health Minister Jeremy Rockliff. He showed a genuine interest in supporting primary care, and when he asked how, we were able to share examples of what our membership said helped them around the country, which he said he would look into and see what he can do to meet GPs’ needs.
 
That’s why these trips are so important.
 
The next stop for Rural Health is South Australia in August.
 
We know that there is a lot of interest in the Eyre Peninsula, and I have been in talks with our South Australian members and Dr David Lam, who sits on the RACGP’s Rural Council, about some of the unique issues the region is facing.
 
I’ve already spoken to doctors in Port Augusta and Port Lincoln, and we are planning a meeting that will give our members a chance to express their concerns, interests and values.
 
We will finish up in Adelaide, where we plan to engage with the PHNs and workforce agencies.
 
I must say, in visiting our GPs in Tasmania, I was really, really encouraged that while facing workforce stress and uncertainty, what comes through in every single conversation I had is how the GPs are both reflecting their community need and responding to it. They are working hard, and we’ve got a responsibility as a college to support them in that work.
 
Going forward, we will be strengthening our calls to Minister for Regional Health Dr David Gillespie that the rural workforce is a key issue that needs to be addressed across the country, from the Northern Territory down to Tasmania.
 
Dr Michael Clements gave a presentation on the Practice to Practice program at the 2021 RACGP Practice Owners National Conference, and a recording is now available online.
 
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Dr Michiel Mel   6/07/2021 6:54:16 AM

Dr Michael Clements gave a presentation on the Practice to Practice program at the 2021 RACGP Practice Owners National Conference, and a recording is now available online.
I clicked on the link and found that the recording is only accessible if one has the username and password for it. I guess one needs to pay for the conference?