The Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ), on behalf of Queensland councils, has urged the Government to consider introducing incentive schemes to attract more GPs to rural and regional areas.

The idea is one of several measures being advocated byLGAQ on behalf of its member councils, to ensure an adequate doctor-to-patient ratio in rural and regional areas, which would provide a local level of health care comparable to that enjoyed in metropolitan areas.

At the LGAQ’s annual conference in Mackay on October 27, delegates voted in favour of a motion from Flinders Shire Council that urged the State and Federal governments to address doctor shortages and the lack of GP health services in rural and regional areas.

Flinders Shire Mayor, Cr Jane McNamara, said rural and regional councils had endured long-term difficulty in recruiting doctors for their local communities.

Mayor McNamara said COVID-19 restrictions had generated greater interstate and intrastate travel, with regional centres experiencing increased tourist numbers and contractor visits which was placing pressure on local health services.

In the case of Flinders Shire, which had a population of more than 1500 residents, there was currently only one local GP available at any one time.

“If that GP is sick, there is not another local GP available in the Shire for someone to have scripts renewed or receive any other local medical services they may require from a GP,” Mayor McNamara said.

“This puts additional pressure on the public hospital at Hughenden, with the closest GP services being at Richmond or Charters Towers (if available) or Townsville which is more than four hours away.”

Mayor McNamara said the State and Federal governments should consider incentive schemes to encourage recruitment of regional health service staff, particularly the relocation of GPs to regional and remote areas.

Consideration should also be given to reinstating reduced higher education fees (HECS/HELP) linked to years of service in rural and remote areas.

“The re-introduction of bonded scholarships such as the ‘rural and remote pathway’ streams for junior medical officers would be another helpful measure,” Mayor McNamara said.

“There should also be guaranteed developmental opportunities for regional doctors as well as relocation incentive schemes for GPs that would lead to a sustainable and acceptable standard of regional health services, especially in rural and remote areas.”

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