In a welcome change from the claims and counter-claims that have surrounded the proposal to date, a clear joint statement from the federal and state health ministers confirms that the Single Employer Model for GPs will be coming to the New England in 2024.
The Single Employer Model provides a tailored, coordinated pathway for doctors wanting to become Rural Generalists during their training in public health facilities and private GP practices. Rural Generalists are GPs who provide primary care services, emergency medicine and have training in additional skills like obstetrics, anaesthetics or mental health services. They are employed by the state health service, thus the ‘single employer’ rather than needing to move to multiple general practices throughout their training.
Confirming the program will go ahead, federal Health Minister Mark Butler said they look forward to working collaboratively with the Minns Government on the expansion of the initiative.
“The Single Employer Model is an innovative approach and will help to attract and retain the doctors we need to provide essential primary healthcare services into the future,” he said.
“This innovative program will make training and working in rural general practice a more attractive option for young doctors and importantly it will make it easier for people in regional New South Wales to see a doctor close to home.”
NSW Minister for Regional Health, Ryan Park, welcomed the opportunity to improve access to primary care and essential medical services.
“Recruitment and retention of a primary health workforce is a major challenge for regional, rural, and remote NSW communities and addressing this is a priority for our Government.”
“This partnership with the Commonwealth Government means more of our regional and rural communities are set to benefit.”
“This announcement by Minister Butler will ensure the creation of attractive and secure training opportunities to foster the next generation of rural generalist doctors in NSW.”
An elated Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall welcomed the confirmation, describing it as the most positive news for health services our region has had for quite some time.
“While it’s taken longer than anticipated to have the Federal Health Minister sign off on the new locations to expand the trial, I’m thrilled the ink is now dry on all the required documents to make this a reality for our region.
“This good news will only be topped when the first crop of the new rural generalist GPs come to our region early next year to provide relief to our beleaguered hospitals, frontline staff and local GPs.”
Mr Marshall said the Minister had advised him today that the NSW Regional Health Division would continue to consult with Hunter New England Health to progress the next steps for the expansion.
“The Minister said Hunter New England Health would now commence the scoping, review and confirmation of their identified general practice partners in our region,” he said.
“This means we should keep the corks in the champagne bottles for now, until we see at which hospitals Hunter New England Health intends to employ these doctors.
“I’ve written today to both the Minister and the health district requesting that in the first crop of the rural generalist, at a minimum, Inverell, Glen Innes, Moree and Armidale Hospitals be included.
“For too long now many of these hospitals have not had their Emergency Departments staffed with doctors and this hast to change,” he said.
Mr Marshall said under the Model, junior doctors are directly employed at local public hospitals, while still enjoying the flexibility to practice as a private GP in a local practice, under supervision, accessing the Medicare Benefits Schedule.
“This is really the best of both worlds for GPs starting out their careers in medicine and makes being a rural GP so much more attractive and on par with specialists for graduating medical students.
“This new model of practice also ensures that when someone presents to their local emergency department there is a doctor present as they are directly employed by the hospital, rather than utilising costly and unreliable locum doctors as is the case now.”
Mr Marshall paid tribute to the hard-working GPs right across the region who were doing more for less and seeing more patients than ever.
“They are the backbone of our country health services but are not often recognised as such,” he said.
“I want to especially single out Dr Vicki Howell and Dr Michelle Guppy from the Division of General Practice, who have spearheaded the push for the rollout of the single employer model here.”
“The 16,000 signature petition last year did its job to shift focus onto workable solutions and pressure government to act and apply to the Commonwealth, but it’s been the grassroots support locally which had helped push this up the agenda.”
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