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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 3107

Western Australia: General Practice

Mr CROOK (O'Connor) (14:27): My question is to the Minister for Health. I refer to the 97 GP vacancies currently in regional Western Australia—rising from 62 vacancies in August last year. Further, I refer to the fact that 83 of these current vacancies are classified as being in the area of high need. What is the government doing to address the dire GP shortage in regional Western Australia?

Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyMinister for Health) (14:27): I thank the member for O'Connor for his question. We have had some very productive discussions about workforce issues in not just his electorate but the whole of the state of Western Australia. I know that he is concerned beyond the boundaries of his electorate and for Western Australia more broadly. The government are putting a great deal of effort into both attracting and retaining a regional workforce in not just Western Australia but other parts of the country. It is difficult.

We have had shortages for many years because the previous government, when the Leader of the Opposition was the health minister, capped the number of GPs that were trained and that led to shortages right around Australia. Of course, it takes a while to train a GP in Australia. We have substantially increased GP training places and we have substantially increased investment in post-medical school places to train GPs, but those students take a while to come through the system. We will see improvements as those Australian GPs come through the system. Meanwhile, we continue to work constructively with overseas trained doctors to fill areas of workforce shortage.

It is worth putting on the record that some $895 million will be invested into rural health workforce education and training programs over the period of the last budget, with $34.1 million for nursing and allied health rural locum schemes, which will provide 3,000 nurse locum placements and 400 allied health locum placements in rural areas over four years to support rural nurses and allied health workers;

There will be $6½ million to provide 400 more clinical placement scholarships over four years for allied health students; $43 million for expanded medical specialist outreach assistance programs; $386.8 million for the Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training Program, which includes the Rural Clinical Training and Support program, Dental Training Expanding Rural Placements Program, University Departments of Rural Health program, and the John Flynn Placement Program; and capital funding to support that through the Rural Education Infrastructure Development Pool.

In March 2010 $345 million was set aside for general practice training. I know that the member for O'Connor knows that 50 per cent of that is undertaken in rural areas. That investment will deliver an additional 5,500 GPs by 2020. But I go back to the point that I made earlier: it does take a while for these new students, after years of constriction, to make their way through the system. I know that the member for O'Connor is very dedicated to his constituents and I look forward to working constructively with him on these issues of workforce shortage. (Time expired)

Mr Albanese: This side has a question.

The SPEAKER: I will decide who gets the next question, Leader of the House. I do notice that the honourable member for Casey, who is sadly no longer among us, has left his prop. The member for Longman has moved into the seat of the member for Casey. He will remove the prop from the desk.