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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 2074

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (13:04): The issue of the training and retention of country doctors is an age-old one. This is a challenge which many regional and rural communities, including many of those in the Riverina electorate, have faced for some time. I am pleased to rise to support this motion and to inform the House of a couple of proactive moves in the Riverina to increase the training and retention of country doctors. There are many good examples of how the Riverina is playing its part in trying to solve the issue of rural access to general practice, allied health and specialist care. I commend the member for Murray for moving this motion. It is a good one. The member for Murray has an electorate like the Riverina with many towns which need more general practitioners and more country doctors, and I am pleased to speak to this motion today.

Dr Stone's motion has three central tenets. The first is that this House celebrates the success of rural clinical schools around Australia, started in 1999 by the then minister for health, the Hon. Dr Michael Wooldridge, and continued by his successor, the now Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. This is something which all country members in this place should agree on. We represent communities which rural clinical schools are helping to better service, and in celebrating and recognising such a contribution we can continue to better service those communities which still need more GPs, such as Hay in the Farrer electorate.

Point (2)(a) is a very important one. It notes that RCSs were designed to overcome the maldistribution of all doctors, including GPs, across Australia which left country regions short of GPs and other specialty doctors. In this debate today it is important to remember the main challenge here is the training and retention of doctors in rural and remote areas, not larger regional cities. On 24 May this year I attended the Charles Sturt University Regional Health Conference in Canberra, alongside my colleagues the member for Bowman and the Hon. Melinda Pavey MLC, New South Wales Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Health. The point of this symposium was clear: the challenge for regional health lies not in how to attract doctors to larger regional cities but instead to smaller towns and communities whose access to general practice is far worse than for those in bigger centres. I might note that we have in the chamber today Irene Broad from Temora, who during her time on Temora Shire Council did a great amount of work, particularly for that community, and was certainly there at the opening of the medical complex in Hoskins Street. She has with her former Filipino congressmen Alfredo Abueg and also a special Olympian, Alfred Abueg. Both are here to visit Australia and look at the many areas and aspects of Australia and what we are doing, including in health.

The member for Murray's motion highlights that students undertaking training in rural locations have academic results that are equal to or better than their metropolitan counterparts, and that published data from public universities show higher rates of RCS graduates working in, or intending to work in, rural areas. Dr Stone is right. The need to get more country doctors to go to more regional and remote locations is something Dr John Preddy, a Wagga Wagga-based paediatrician and lecturer at Wagga Wagga's University of New South Wales Rural Clinical School, understands well and is passionate about. Dr Preddy has been championing this cause in Wagga Wagga and the wider area for many years. He realises, as many country communities do, that remote GPs are much more needed in smaller communities than they are in coastal cities or larger inland regional centres.

Dr Preddy has provided some very pleasing statistics about UNSW's Rural Clinical School program and its contribution to country medicine in the Riverina. He told me today that the Wagga Wagga Rural Clinical School currently has 50 students enrolled, with 16 set to graduate this year. Almost half of those, Dr Preddy said, are students who are already from rural, regional or remote areas—they are country kids. There are currently 18 interns at the Wagga Wagga Base Hospital, 17 of whom are graduates from UNSW's Rural Clinical School in town. Further to this, Dr Preddy said the school has recently conducted a survey of the career intentions of their students. Of those students, 70 per cent have indicated they want to work in remote general practice. That is great. They do not want to work in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, they do not want to work in coastal centres; they want to be a rural and remote GP and treat patients in the areas which need it most, like Hay and like Temora, and that is something we should commend. Recently, Dr Preddy met with my National Party colleagues Senator the Hon. Fiona Nash, Assistant Minister for Health, and the member for Lyne, himself a former rural specialist, along with Dr Lesley Forster, Kate Pitney and Josh Lane, the last two of whom are students at Wagga Wagga's RCS, to tell us of their great work and to share those statistics. They are to be commended for their work in this area.

I also commend Charles Sturt University for lobbying for the next step up, a rural medical school for Wagga. I know UNSW is also actively working in this space. It is very important to note that the rural medical school implementation committee at Wagga Wagga, headed by Dr Nick Stephenson, is working towards getting a rural medical school. That is the next step, that is what we need. I support this motion put forward by the member for Murray.