Better medical services for rural mothers

A number of Federal Government initiatives will help to ease the shortage of qualified doctors available to help women giving birth in rural and regional Australia.

Assistant Federal Minister for Health, Dr David Gillespie, told a scientific meeting of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in Albury that 2017 would be a big year for the profession.

“Australia is amongst the safest places in the world to have a baby; but we can still improve,” Federal Minister Gillespie said.

“Innovative solutions, like Rural Generalism and GP Obstetricians, provide maternal and obstetrics services in country Australia. Thanks to the good work of the College, we will build on strong foundations already in place.”

The Federal Minister said many regional and rural GPs provide maternity services because specialists were not available. But the ongoing shortage of obstetricians in rural areas is due to poor distribution rather than overall low numbers.

“We’re training more doctors than ever before – GPs and other specialists ̶ yet we still can’t get enough to take up practice in rural and regional communities”.

Federal Minister Gillespie said the legislation to establish the independent National Rural Health Commissioner to focus efforts to improve rural health services had been introduced into Parliament in February 2017.

He said a top priority of the Commissioner, once appointed, would be to develop training and qualifications to recognise the extra skills needed by rural “generalist” GPs, including obstetrics and anaesthetics.

Federal Minister Gillespie said the Integrated Rural Training Pipeline for Medicine which was now in development should in the longer term also result in more obstetricians choosing to practise in rural areas.

The first tranche of 50 new rural specialist training places for 2017 has been decided, with two allocated to obstetrics and gynaecology.

The Federal Government has provided $27.9 million since 2011 to support specialist training posts in obstetrics and gynaecology, including the two new rural posts.

Other current initiatives aimed at improving maternity services include:

  • two Federal Government programs which provide funds to rural GPs to undertake further training are being reviewed by an external consultant. Of the 282 GPs who received training grants from 2010 to 2015, 191 received obstetrics training.
  • a new National Maternity Services Framework is being finalised, which may include neonatal and child health services, antenatal health risk factors and screening for family violence. A final draft will go to the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council later in 2017.
  • Medicare Benefits Schedule items for obstetrics have been reviewed, with final recommendations now with the Federal Minister for Health, Greg Hunt.
  • gynaecological items on the MBS have been considered by four working groups – assisted reproductive technology, general gynaecology, urogynaecology and gynaecology oncology. The resulting recommendations will be open for public comment in 2017.

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