Limestone Coast to hold medical trial

TRIAL WELCOME: Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell welcomes the single employment model trial to the Limestone Coast. Picture: FILE

Charlotte Varcoe

THE Limestone Coast Local Health Network (LCLHN) will take part in the new Single Employer Model (SEM) which will support up to 60 additional general practitioners throughout regional South Australia.

The LCLHN is one of five regional and rural networks taking part in the new trial which is in addition to the success of the Riverland Academy of Clinical Excellence in the Riverland Mallee Coorong Local Health Network.

Under the program, general practitioners and rural generalist registrars will have the option of being employed by the South Australian Health Service as salaried employees.

This would allow them to have a single employer while placed in general practitioner practices in rural and regional locations.

LCLHN chairperson Grant King welcomed the announcement stating it would be an opportunity to increase the level of training for general practitioners long term.

“It is based on the model which is working very well in the Riverland and so we will be part of the statewide trial with the other regional local health networks,” Mr King said.

“I think everybody is excited by the fact we will be able to put in place a training program which builds a pipeline for the future of our general practitioners.”

He said it was not only a solution to a general workforce problem but also a “really important piece of work” which had demonstrated benefits which would help.

“This is about general practitioner doctors and right across the state we know there is a shortage,” Mr King said.

“There is quite an extensive use of locum doctors where resident general practitioners are not available, particularly in some small communities.

“We need to make sure we can continue to train and attract young and trainee doctors into the regions and this trial is working on the basis that junior doctors can be given a longer-term contract which provides some certainty for them.”

Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell said the trial was great news for the community.

“This is something I have been talking about for many months with the health minister in Parliament,” Mr Bell said.

“We need to do everything we can to retain doctors in regional parts of South Australia.

“This trial proved it has a 25 per cent greater retention rate than not having the trial which was done in the Riverland and I spoke about that in Parliament and questioned why we were not rolling it out across all regions.”

He said he was now pleased it was being rolled out, which would be positive for all regions across the state.

“We are really struggling for medical staff and the biggest benefit to this is there will be more doctors staying in the region which is the end goal,” Mr Bell said.

“That is what we are trying to achieve and of course the more doctors we have, the more people can get in and see medical professionals.”

Mr Bell said moving forward he would also like to have greater incentives for regional students who study medicine to be attracted back into regional areas.

“We have a greater chance of retaining our young people who are qualified or doing the qualifications to come back to regional areas than we do of just recruiting people from overseas or who grew up in metropolitan areas,” he said.

“I firmly believe that a lot of country kids will come back to the country if the opportunities are there.”

Mr Bell said it was excellent to have the rollout of the trial a year after he spoke about it in Parliament with the support of Member for MacKillop Nick McBride.

“We are starting to see a state government that is listening to the Limestone Coast and implementing good ideas going forward, so I am really pleased about that,” he said.

“This is one of the many long journeys we are on but I am very confident we are setting up our region for a bright future.”

Mr Bell said he was concerned about housing the general practitioners moving forward yet acknowledged there were “serious moves” to combat the issue.

Minister for Health and Wellbeing Chris Picton and Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler agreed there was a need for more regional general practitioners with the trial remaining a success.

Mr McBride also welcomed the initiative and said it would benefit the region as a whole.

“I will continue to say it – we need more general practitioners – but we don’t just need them in the major centres like Mount Gambier,” Mr McBride said.

“There are so many towns across MacKillop crying out for doctors, including Naracoorte, Robe, Millicent and Beachport – as well as to the north in towns like Lameroo and Pinnaroo.

“Guaranteeing employment for five years will provide doctors with the stability they need to invest in the regional community of their choice. The country offers such an enviable lifestyle and I truly hope this program is a start to ensuring a stronger regional health system.”

Member for Barker Tony Pasin welcomed the announcement stating the “disproportionate distribution of general practitioners” had been an ongoing issue across the country for some time.

“While I was pleased that the Labor Government matched this Coalition commitment, the fact that it has taken two years to see the trial roll out in South Australia is extremely disappointing,” Mr Pasin said.

“I’m pleased that the Labor Government is beginning to take action to see more gneral practitioners trained in the regions.

“It’s disappointing that it has taken so long particularly given the current primary care crisis that is being overseen by this government, which means it has never been harder or more expensive to see a doctor.”

The new trial is part of an SEM expansion announced in the October 2022 and May 2023 federal budgets and will run until 2028.