Minister, medicos meet over rural doctors

The Rural Doctors Association says telehealth cannot replace the need for face-to-face services.
The Rural Doctors Association says telehealth cannot replace the need for face-to-face services.

Health Minister Greg Hunt is set to meet with peak medical bodies on Thursday to discuss the shortage of rural doctors.

The issue was put back in the spotlight this week by reports a 66-year-old woman had died after being taken to a rural NSW clinic with no doctor on site.

The woman died from a gastrointestinal rupture while receiving treatment from a doctor via telehealth and local nurses.

Mr Hunt said beyond dealing with COVID-19 his two biggest priorities were making private health sustainable and delivering what is called the "national rural generalist training pathway".

The Rural Doctors Association of Australia says while telehealth should be used to provide additional support and services, it cannot in any way replace the need for face-to-face services.

The rural generalist training pathway is seen as key to training the next generation of rural doctors with the skills and desire to work in rural and remote settings.

"A rural generalist doctor is different from a GP," says Dr Adam Coltzau, immediate past president of the RDAA.

"The type of work they do is different and the clinical skills needed to work across both the general practice and hospital settings is different. So recruitment to these roles is a challenge and can impact on hospital services.

"Retention of rural generalists is essential to the maintenance of rural hospitals and the services provided by them."

The government is putting $3.6 million into pilot programs in NSW.

"Each rural town and each rural hospital is unique. The provision of the variety of health services needed in rural communities is a complex challenge and needs tailored solutions," Dr Coltzau said.

Australian Associated Press