Following Wednesday night’s meeting about the GP crisis in Armidale, Federal Health Minister Mark Butler has reiterated that they are willing to fund a further two areas in New South Wales to implement the ‘Single Employer Model’ that many hope will be a game-changer for the New England.
The model, also referred to as the Murrumbidgee Model, was trialed first in the Murrumbidgee health district and was recently rolled out state wide in Tasmania. It is a fundamental change to the way GP Registrars undertake their training, enabling them to be employed by the state health system for the entirety of their specialty training and paid the same as other registrars in the hospital system, rather than being employed by different GP businesses for four stints of six months each and being paid much less. To make it work, the federal government needs to grant an exemption for the state employed doctors to claim the Medicare rebate like any other GP.
The federal government budgeted last October for a further 10 sites to be transitioned to the model. Last November, NSW Minister for Regional Health Bronnie Taylor called for expressions of interest from the Local Health Districts in New South Wales, and five sites were identified as ready and keen to implement the significant reform. She then accused the federal government of playing politics because of the upcoming state election by rolling it out in Tasmania rather than in NSW, and said she wanted it everywhere.
A spokesperson for the Mr Butler said the Minister has instructed the Public Health Network (PHN) to work with the local practices and key community stakeholders to ensure the continued viability of GP services in Armidale.
“The PHN is also offering grants to practices of up to $10k recruitment grants per vacancy to assist with recruitment as well as a range of additional incentives available to general practitioners more broadly.”
“The Government has committed to expanding single employer model (SEM) trials for rural GPs in training, which will allow GP registrars to access and retain more attractive employment conditions for the duration of their training,” the spokesperson said.
“Following the October 2022 Budget announcement to establish 10 new Single Employer Model trials, the Minister wrote to state counterparts in January to invite them to establish trials of single employer models in priority locations in their state.”
“The Minister wrote to Minister Taylor inviting her Department to make an expression of interest for two trials out of the 10 funded.”
It is not clear why the NSW Government has not acted immediately to allow the two most in need areas to begin the new system, but not wanting to show favouritism to one area over another, particularly so close to an election, is a likely explanation.
“The Department of Health and Aged Care will work with the NSW Ministry to implement their proposed trials, as soon as they respond to the expression of interest,” the spokesperson for Mr Butler said.
Member for Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall said at Wednesday night’s meeting that the New England is “priority number one” to get the new GP Registrars, with four to be based at Inverell Hospital, three at Glen Innes, and 12 in Armidale, which would significantly make up for the significant recent losses of health professionals.
The clearly very frustrated Marshall has been called for federal and state governments to work together on the issue urgently.