A country jackpot: cash incentive to lure GPs out bush

Doctors will be eligible for tens of thousands of dollars in cash incentives if they move out bush in a bid to plug chronic GP shortages in the regions.

A $10,000 one-off payment will be offered to doctors who move to 32 country towns in South Australia, including Renmark on the River Murray and the wine country town of Clare, to set up practice or work in a hospital.

The incentive, announced on Wednesday, comes on top of an existing attraction payment of up to $50,000, which will also be expanded to include new sites.

It forms part of a four-year agreement between the state government and the Australian Medical Association (AMA), the Rural Doctors Association of South Australia (RDASA) and the Rural Support Service on behalf of SA Health’s six regional local health networks, that will kick in from February 1.

Health Minister Chris Picton said it provides greater security for regional doctors and peace of mind to regional South Australians to know that their local doctor is being looked after.

Combined with new improvements under way at regional hospitals, "this agreement demonstrates that there has never been a better time for GPs choosing to make a tree or sea change to a regional area," he said.

Sessional rates - how much GPs get paid by the hour - were boosted three per cent and GPs signing onto the new agreement will receive an additional $5000 payment.

Despite the plentiful drawcards of life "en campagne", South Australian health authorities have struggled to retain medical staff to service the state's picturesque countryside.

AMA SA branch president John Williams hopes the deal will encourage more GPs in Adelaide and interstate to move to regional South Australia, where doctors are in high demand.

"This agreement is one very important component of the many that we are exploring to secure a long-term rural health workforce and improve rural health services for our patients and communities," Dr Williams said.

RDASA president Bill Geyer said the contract was "an early Christmas present" for country doctors, especially because it finally rewards GPs for teaching work.

"We do a lot of work supporting medical students, interns, trainee general practitioners and a lot of that work up until now has not been remunerated," he told ABC Radio. 

"It's been done out of the goodness of our hearts, basically."

SA opposition regional health spokeswoman Penny Pratt said any investment in country health was welcomed but it was a "bit cute" for the minister to laud $10,000 as a groundbreaking incentive.

"When we look across the border at NSW offering $20,000 on the table, Queensland offering $30,000 and Victoria has had a total of $201 million on the table as incentives," she told ABC Radio. 

"There is a long way to go. When it comes to mental health and regional psychiatry we are worse off than Mongolia."

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