Rural doctor incentives review may finally be in sight

RURAL mining towns such as Emerald and Moranbah have the same financial incentive classification to attract doctors as coastal hubs such as Cairns and Townsville.

Regional NSW centres, such as Grafton and Lismore, or Queensland farming areas, like Warwick and Kingaroy, must compete for doctors who get the same incentives to head to Coffs Harbour, Mackay and Toowoomba which are all considered less rural than the northern Queensland tourist idylls.

Gladstone is deemed even more remote than any of those locations with doctors receiving the same bonuses as they would for Roma, Goondiwindi or Alice Springs.

Rural Doctors Association of Australia chief Jenny Johnson said, amid suggestions on Sunday that the Health Department would now investigate alternatives, the RDAA had campaigned to improve the flawed incentive scheme for five or six years and it seemed like a proper review now might be in sight.

She said the $113 million scheme was not helping ease the medical crisis in bush towns, rather attracting them to seemingly more attractive regional cities.

Ms Johnson said the scheme paid doctors an incentive depending on their geographical distance from major cities without considering the size of the town.

"What it means is that the doctors who are relocating and heading to those cities get more financial incentives to do so than some of doctors in small rural towns," she said.

"Rural medicine is great but the bottom line is that people would be more attracted to go to those coastal towns where there are employment opportunities for their partners and good education options for their children.

"It's only natural when you're looking at the options on paper at going to Cairns or Gundagai - where would you go?

"Especially if you didn't know the personal rewards and great career path from working in rural areas."

Ms Johnson said she was reluctant to get her hopes up for change in what has been a long battle where "the anomalies were patently obvious from the start".

"We realise we're never going to get a system that suits absolutely everybody but there is potential for more appropriate ways to divert incentives to where they are most needed," she said.

"We would not begrudge any doctors going to regional areas and we acknowledge the work they do but we are continually reminded these are tight fiscal times and the incentives need to go to all these little towns struggling to recruit and retain doctors."


Major cities: No incentives. Sunshine Coast, Ipswich, Tweed Heads.

Inner regional: $15,000 relocation grant. $12,000 for five years service. Mackay, Rockhampton, Bundaberg, Maryborough, Gympie, Toowoomba, Warwick, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Kingaroy, Deniliquin.

Outer regional: $30,000 relocation grant. $18,000 for five years service. Cairns, Townsville, Emerald, Dysart, Blackwater, Moranbah, Murgon, Broken Hill.

Remote: $60,000 relocation grant. $27,000 for five years service. Gladstone, Mount Isa, Chinchilla, Roma, Charleville, Goondiwindi, Alice Springs.

Very remote: $120,000 relocation grant. $47,000 for five years service. Longreach, Birdsville, Coober Pedy.

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