Gillespie responds to regional GP services access concerns

Commonwealth efforts to identify regions where people face difficulties accessing GPs will be re-evaluated to address emerging local pressures.

Federal Minister for Regional Health David Gillespie announced the review of the Distribution Priority Area (DPA) classification system this week.

“I have heard the concerns that the current approach is not capturing current or emerging local pressures, sudden and unexpected changes, and unmet demand,” Dr Gillespie said.

The DPA system assesses regional data annually to support approvals for priority access to internationally trained doctors and bonded doctors.

It also supports other initiatives that encourage doctors who are subject to location restrictions, such as those who trained overseas, to work in rural areas. 

“The Government is acutely aware of the significant shortage of GPs in many areas of regional, rural and remote Australia. As a regional doctor myself for most of my career, I understand the impact this has on health outcomes and community wellbeing,” Dr Gillespie said. 

Anyone in a non-DPA area such as a GP clinic can apply for an assessment, provided they can demonstrate they are working with and have the support of the Rural Workforce Agency (RWA) in their state or territory.

Once an applicant has worked with their RWA, they can submit it to the Distribution Working Group for a review of an area’s non-DPA status. 

Other factors which would be considered alongside an area’s non-DPA status include:

  • Demonstrating an unexpectedly large change to the health workforce resulting in a substantial drop in health services to the community that is not recognised in the last DPA update;
  • Changes in patient demographics or services arrangements, eg doctor retirements (without replacement), hospital closures or an unexpectedly sharp increase in population, or where a patient cohort is an underserviced demographic or requires a specialised nature of service; and
  • Absence of services, including demonstrated difficulties in recruiting or retaining medical practitioners at a scale measurably different to similar communities.

If approved, an area will be eligible to access additional programs for that year to support the recruitment of a broader pool of doctors.

A formal review of the DPA indicator has also been proposed, with further details to be announced soon.