Proposed plan could force some doctors out of rural areas

RURAL doctors have hit out at a plan to move GP responsibilities - like immunisation - to pharmacists, saying such a proposal could result in a net loss of health care for the bush.

The plan, outlined in a Grattan Institute report, advocated the use of physician assistants and increased roles for pharmacists to address health access gaps in remote areas.

But the president of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, Dr Sheilagh Cronin, said the ideas proposed failed to recognise that reducing a GP's service could make rural practices non-viable.

She said while the idea of more physician assistants warranted "further consideration", the report proposed moves that could force some doctors out of remote areas.

"This would mean the town would retain a pharmacist who can provide immunisations and chronic care, but would lose a doctor who could resuscitate you, deliver your baby, provide a general anaesthetic, undertake general surgery such as removing a skin cancer and setting a broken bone, and provide services like acute mental healthcare," she said.

"It is not hard to see how a Band-aid solution could actually result in a net loss of health services to the town."

Dr Cronin said the strategy could also put patient safety at risk, if pharmacists were not properly trained to deal with the same issues rural GPs face on a regular basis.

"This is particularly in the case of repeat prescriptions, where patient symptoms may not have resolved and, rather than needing another batch of the same medicine, a patient actually needs to be re-assessed by a fully-trained doctor to ensure there are not more serious underlying health issues," she said.

The head of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, Professor Richard Murray, also criticised the institute's proposal, saying it missed out on "other critical priorities".

He said even if extra physician assistants were brought in to add to teams of allied health professionals and pharmacists, remote communities still needed a skilled rural doctor.

Both Prof Murray and Dr Cronin said a rising number of medical school graduates was also coming into the industry in recent years, with both expecting those students to help fill access gaps in remote towns.