Doctors demand $237,000 pay rise before going bush

DOCTORS want a salary bump worth more than three times the average Australian’s annual income before they would work in regional areas.

A University of Melbourne probe into what it would take to lure more doctors to the bush has found more than two thirds of all general practioners have zero interest in ever making the move.

GPs who haven’t ruled it out want a $237,000 salary increase in exchange for treating patients in the smallest and most remote towns.

Relocating to a town with between 5000 and 20,000 residents would require incentives of at least 37 per cent of a GP’s current earnings, or about $68,000.

An increase of about 64 per cent of a doctor’s current average annual salary — or about $116,000, would be required to encourage them to a basic job in an inland town with less than 5000 people.

The average Australian income is about $70,000.

Rural Doctors Association of Australia president Paul Mara, a GP based in the southwest NSW town of Gundagai, said the demands were not unreasonable.

“It’s no different to getting a truck driver to work in the Pilbara, you’ve just got to pay them more and it’s as simple as that,” he said.

“The reality is at the moment, there are doctors working 38 hours a week in emergency departments in Australia that are being paid considerably more than doctors working in the bush who are committed to the area and investing in the community but absolutely flogging themselves with very long, difficult hours.”

Dr Mara and his GP wife have averaged up to three to four after-hours call outs each week for the past 30 years.

“Doctors know that is a consequence of living in a regional area and they won’t accept it without proper incentives and nor should they,” he said.

Researchers surveyed nearly 4000 Australian GPs to produce the study.

One co-author, associate professor Guyonne Kalb, said it was unclear whether one of the team’s major findings – that 65 per cent of doctors would never consider a career in the bush – was disproportionately high compared to other occupations.

“But generally, people don’t like to move… because for most people, where they are reflects to some extent where they want to be,” she said.

“People just naturally do not like moving. It’s human nature and no amount of financial or lifestyle benefits can change that.”

The study did find GPs would accept less compensation if the town or city they moved to offered a decent level of social interaction, the same or less working hours, a good practice team and an ability to find locums to fill in during holidays.

That proves the existing ‘one-size fits all’ approach to government incentives needs to be replaced by a system where the individual characteristics of the destination is given greater consideration when calculating payments, Dr Mara said.

“The (federal) government really just don’t understand the difference between what a rural doctor does and what one in metropolitan Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane does,” he said.

“Unless they start to understand those differences we won’t get past first base and regional Australia will go without GPs.”

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