By Michael McCormack*
It’s simply not good enough. That is your first thought when you meet the people affected by Australia’s rural doctor shortage.
The people who travel for hours on country roads or who wait for weeks or even longer just to see a doctor. Those who do their best – who rally local business communities to help, who open their arms to a new recruit and make them welcome – just to make sure the doctor stays. Yet this is the reality in many country communities around Australia.
Country people hear and see the consequences of a training system which produces enough doctors, just not enough in the places they are needed. These communities don’t really care what the problems are, nor what it is which holds the training pathway back. They just want to see a local doctor.So shortly after my election to Parliament in 2010 I got together a group of local doctors, community leaders and specialists who want to be part of the solution in my Riverina region. And we are just one community of hundreds with similar challenges across Australia.
Over the years we have tried many approaches, but time and again the answer seems pretty simple. Something needs to change. And in a few different ways we have tried it.
We tried simply training students for a few years in the country or ‘bonding’ them to the bush for a few years after graduation. We tried using a hub-and-spoke model, with city headquarters and rural clinical schools dotted around the regions.
We have a willing local medical community – eager and ready with welcoming arms – and a brand new hospital with state-of-the-art facilities. We tried all that. But still the bush needs more doctors. So The Nationals and I want to try something different. We want to build rural medical schools.
We know this is something which has mixed opinions. And we get that simply training more doctors is not the answer. We want these doctors to work when they graduate. But we are elected to speak up for the people who do not have the access to a doctor they deserve.
So The Nationals believe if we train – from start to finish – more doctors in the bush, we can attract more people who want to make the regions their home. Those people will be more likely to meet their life partners – as so many do during study – and establish a base in the bush.
It will also help attract country students who may not want to move to the city to do a couple of years at uni. So we are going to work our hardest to see this vision become a reality.
It will take time and an effort. But with the conviction of our communities and the passion of parliamentarians, such as our Deputy Leader Bridget McKenzie and Calare MP Andrew Gee, we will do our best to get the bush a better deal.
Doctors’ visits should not be a privilege and The Nationals will do our best to make sure there’s a doctor to see you in the bush.
* Michael McCormack is the Leader of The Nationals, Deputy Prime Minister and the Member for Riverina.