RDAA calls for more incentives

WHEN specialist doctors in the public service are earning upwards of $300,000 in rural and regional areas, why would any city doctor move to a rural or regional area unless there was more incentives on the table?

That was the blunt message from Dr Paul Mara, president of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, responding to research released on Wednesday that said city doctors would need upwards of a $200,000 pay rise to relocate to remote small towns for work.

The University of Melbourne surveyed more than 4000 city doctors and asked them what incentives it would take to get them to move to small, medium and large regional towns around the country.

On an average income of about $185,000 a year, the GPs surveyed said they would need an extra $237,000 to take a job in "a remote, inland town with poor social interaction and a big workload".

The respondents said larger towns, with populations of less than 5000 people, would need a 63% increase in incentives, or about $116,000 to take a job in such areas.

Dr Mara said he was not surprised by the results, saying the research showed city doctors were just as aware of the problems in rural medicine, a fact that the Federal Government had still not taken into account.

He said while a Senate committee inquiry was already under way looking into the difficulties of attracting health workers to rural areas, problems with the way different regional towns were classified was one of the biggest issues the government had failed to recognise.

"The rationale for moving to rural areas is pretty incentive heavy, but people aren't going to move if there's no opportunities for training, no development, and they have to work 24/7.

"When you can earn between $300,000 and $350,000 as a government specialist and work 38 hours a week in rural areas and then knock off, why would you take a GP role, earn half as much and work twice as hard.

"There's no knock-off time for rural GPs; if you're in town, the calls keep coming."

Lead researcher on the project, Professor Tony Scott, said the survey had proved that desired compensation varied "according to the practice location and workplace conditions.

"If on-call is low and hours worked do not change, the job becomes more attractive and the compensation required is less," he said.

"Designing schemes to encourage doctors to locate and remain in remote and rural areas requires an understanding of the various factors that motivate doctors' decisions."