GP Distribution Priority Area exceptional circumstances assessment launched to boost GP workforce

Federal Member for Wide Bay and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Llew O’Brien has welcomed a new exceptional circumstances review process for the Distribution Priority Area (DPA) classification system.

“We all want affordable and accessible healthcare, and the new exceptional circumstances assessment process is a common-sense measure to help regions and local communities respond to unforeseen workforce and population changes, which may affect access to local General Practitioner services,” Mr O’Brien said.

“This means non-DPA areas can have a speedy assessment of their particular set of circumstances, and if approved, gain access to the additional programs which come through having DPA status, to boost the GP workforce.

“I have been seeking improvements to the DPA system to boost the GP workforce, and I’ve been working with the new Minister for Regional Health,
Dr David Gillespie, to ensure the DPA policy is capable of reflecting recent changes to health services in regional communities.

“I’m pleased Dr Gillespie has identified a solution to our concerns with the inclusion of an important new exceptional circumstances assessment mechanism that allows for the consideration of unexpected, sudden or emerging pressures that may impact health service in non-DPA regions outside of the DPA assessment timetable,” Mr O’Brien said.

Minister for Regional Health, Dr David Gillespie said the DPA classification allows the government to identify regions where locals face an increased challenge to access a GP.

The DPA indicator supports other initiatives that encourage doctors who might be subject to location restrictions to work in regional and rural areas.

“The Government is aware of the need to increase the GP workforce in many areas of regional, rural and remote Australia. As a regional doctor myself for most of my career, I understand the impact this has on health outcomes and community wellbeing,” Dr Gillespie said.

“The current DPA system assesses regions annually, using the most up-to-date available data to support approvals for priority access to internationally-trained doctors and bonded doctors.

“I have heard loud and clear the concerns that this approach is not capturing current or emerging local pressures, sudden and unexpected changes and unmet demand. So, I have worked with my Department to implement the exceptional circumstances assessment for non-DPA regions with GP service access concerns.

“Anyone in a non-DPA area such as a GP clinic can apply for an assessment.”

Dr Gillespie said an important step in the assessment process is applicants working with, and having the support of the Rural Workforce Agency (RWA) in their state or territory.

“RWAs play an important local role in helping medical practices recruit and retain GPs, nurses and other allied health professionals,” he said.

“In fact, each year they support more than 6,000 rural health professionals and 1,800 rural practices with tailored solutions to a range of recruitment and retention options.”

Once an applicant has worked with their RWA, they can submit it to the Distribution Working Group for a review of an area’s non-DPA status.

Dr Gillespie said the following factors would be considered alongside an area’s non-DPA status:

  • Support of the local RWA
    • Demonstrating the RWA is working with them to address workforce concerns and that steps have been, or are being, taken to implement RWA advice or support.
  • Changes to health services, workforce, or health system
    • Demonstrating an unexpected large change to the health workforce resulting in a substantial drop in health services to the community that is not recognised in the last DPA update.
  • Patient demographics or changes
    • For areas experiencing changing service arrangements, for example doctor retirements (without replacement), hospital closures or an unexpected sharp increase in population.
    • Where the patient cohort is an underserviced demographic or requires a specialised nature of service.
  • Absence of services
    • Demonstrating difficulties in recruiting or retaining medical practitioners at a scale that is measurably different to similar communities and warrants discretion within health workforce programs.

“If approved, an area will be eligible to access additional programs for that year to support recruitment from a broader pool of doctors,” he said.

“We are aiming to ensure the process is a speedy one, to quickly help address any GP service shortfall arising from those additional factors.”

The Australian Government is also preparing a formal review of the DPA indicator. Further details of the review will be announced soon.