Following last week's large community crisis meeting in Armidale about the deteriorating state of the GP workforce in the region, Armidale has been announced as the next trial site for the successful GP Single Employer Model.
The same model has been highly successful in Murrumbidgee near Wagga Wagga, where 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.
Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall said this is the best news the region has had on the primary healthcare front in a very long time and although it is not the silver bullet, it will go a long way to addressing the sharp decline in GP numbers.
"It's a win-win scenario for everyone," Mr Marshall said.
"The GP is actually employed in the hospital as a salaried doctor, with all the benefits that come with that as well as having the flexibility with the exemption that the federal government grants under the Medicare benefit scheme to practice as a private GP in a local clinic. So, they get training in both a hospital setting and private GP setting, while the patients also get more GPs in their local communities.
Mr Marshall also points out, the model is very competitive with specialties.
"Instead of medical school graduates seeking a career as a specialist, it actually makes becoming a rural GP incredibly attractive because they get the best of both worlds without missing out on anything.
"So, it's really attractive for GPs, it's a great way to build our GP numbers back up in this region and it's a huge boost for our hospital system, because it guarantees that we have doctors in the hospital when people present."
Mr Marshall said the next steps would see NSW Health engage with the Commonwealth’s Primary Health Network to sign up GP practices across the Northern Tablelands to take junior doctors, then recruit for multiple positions across the region.
“The next two intakes of junior doctors are late this year and early next year and the intention is still to have four based in Inverell, three and Glen Innes and around 12 at Armidale,” Mr Marshall said.
“But it’s not limited to those numbers – if GP clinics wish to take more junior doctors we can employ more at our local hospitals and give the GP workforce in our region the largest boost in decades.
“We could literally see 20-30 new doctors practicing in our local hospitals and local GP clinics from the start of next year – it’s that real.”
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.
“A big thank you also to New England Visions 2030, for keeping the focus on this issue and working on practical solutions.”
Mr Marshall said he would keep the community informed about progress on the rollout of the Single Employer Model across the region.
New England Division of General Practice Secretary and Treasurer Dr Michelle Guppy, Chair Dr Vicki Howell and Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall.