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Urgent fix needed for flawed classification system, doctor groups warn Government

18 Feb 2014

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) and Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) are jointly calling on the Federal Government to urgently replace the Australian Standard Geographic Classification – Remoteness Areas (ASGC-RA) system, saying it continues to make it extremely difficult for many small rural towns to recruit and retain much-needed doctors.

The ASGC-RA is used to determine the level of incentives available to doctors who relocate or continue to practise in regional, rural and remote areas. Since its implementation in 2009, it has been subject to criticism from many rural stakeholder groups.

Under the current geographically-based classification system, numerous large and well-serviced regional cities are classified as being more remote than many smaller rural towns. Because doctors in these cities are then eligible for a higher level of incentives, the smaller towns find it extremely difficult to compete for doctors.

RDAA President, Dr Ian Kamerman, said the ASGC-RA is continuing to cause particular hardship for smaller rural communities that are already finding it difficult to attract and retain doctors.

“Rural doctors provide a wide and vital range of services in these smaller communities” he said. “The doctor you see in their practice is often the same one delivering your baby or treating your heart attack at the local hospital.

“A classification system that cannot take this into account—and tell the difference between Townsville and Tumut, or Cairns and Cowra—is obviously flawed.

“There is an urgent need to fix the current system—until this is done, many smaller rural towns will continue to face an uphill battle in terms of recruiting and retaining doctors.”

AMA President, Dr Steve Hambleton, said the deficiencies of the system had been acknowledged by the current Government and that changes were long overdue.

“We know that Minister Dutton and Minister Nash are well aware of the significant drawbacks of the ASGC-RA classification system, and the negative impact it has had on many small rural communities” he said.

“But action is now long overdue, and rural doctors and rural communities are starting to wonder how long they are going to have to wait to see some improvements.”

Both the AMA and RDAA support the modified Monash Model of rural classification—which is strongly evidence-based and incorporates other factors such as population size in classifying rural communities—as a replacement for the ASGC-RA.

However, both organisations have stressed that key stakeholders must be consulted and involved in the introduction, monitoring and evaluation of any new system.

Available for interview:

Dr Ian Kamerman (RDAA President) and Dr Steve Hambleton (AMA President).

Media contacts:

Patrick Daley (RDAA, Monday to Wednesday) on 0408 004 890.

Ineke Kuiper (RDAA, Thursday and Friday) on 0408 669 638.

John Flannery (AMA) on 0419 494 761.


Published: 18 Feb 2014