Claims On Rural Doctor Shortage At Odds With Independent Report – 9 May 2000

Claims, by Federal Health Minister, Dr Michael Wooldridge, that restrictions on Medicare provider numbers to Australian medical graduates have led to an increase in rural doctors fly in the face of an independent report which attributes the increase to a recruitment drive of overseas doctors.

Speaking in Parliament on 16 March 2000, the Minister for Health claimed that “The single most significant thing we have done to get more doctors into country areas is using what is called the provider number legislation”.

However, the mid term review of the legislation commissioned by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care, and submitted to the Minister in November last year, found no evidence that this had increased the numbers of rural doctors.

The report from The Hon. Ron Phillips says:
“Data received from a number of organisations indicate that there has been an increase in the number of doctors in rural areas.

“However attributing this increase solely to the operation of the Act [Provider Number Legislation] would be inappropriate, given the number of initiatives aimed at achieving such an increase…

“Furthermore it appears that this increase is largely due to a number of initiatives which have targeted the recruitment of overseas trained doctors.”

“The Federal Health Minister is taking the credit for solving the bush doctor crisis, despite reports from his advisers to the contrary,” said Mr Stephen Milgate, Executive Director of the Australian Doctors’ Fund.

“The Minister is searching for excuses to justify his restrictions on Provider Numbers for junior doctors who he targeted to bear the brunt of his attempts to cutback on Medicare spending.”

Chairman of the Australian Doctors’ Fund, Dr Bruce Shepherd, said “Before Dr Wooldridge entangles himself in evidence based medicine he’d better get evidence based legislation straightened out.”

“The bottom line is that there is no objective evidence that the restrictions on Medicare provider numbers has had any significant beneficial effect on overcoming the rural doctor shortage. There are therefore no grounds for this restrictive legislation to continue.”

“The Minister for Health and the Shadow Minister for Health should support its immediate repeal,” said Dr Shepherd.