Valley doctor shortage feared

MEDICAL practices in the Clarence Valley are worried they will not be able to attract GPs to the region following a Federal Government review of the regulations allowing the hiring of doctors from overseas.

On Monday Assistant Federal Health Minister Senator Fiona Nash launched the new District of Workforce Shortage maps, saying the new maps would more accurately identify where doctor shortages exist so that recruitment of new doctors can be better targeted.

Sen Nash claimed the new maps would make it easier for rural, regional and remote communities to attract GPs. But a local practice manager says this has not rung true for practices in the Clarence Valley, which has lost its DWS status.

The manager, who does not want to be named, said there were at least six vacancies for doctors in the Clarence Valley, which are now unlikely to be filled.

She said Clarence losing its DWS status was a big deal in the Valley.

"When I heard about it, I got on the phone to other practices in the region and they were all as shocked as I was," she said.

She DWS status allows practices in declared regions to recruit international medical graduates.

"They have to jump through a few hoops, but basically we could hire people with equivalent qualifications to a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and they could go straight into work," the manager said.

The government argues much of the doctor shortage information was out of date and was overdue for an upgrade.

"Rural doctors have told me the old DWS map system was no longer accurate and was in desperate need of an overhaul," Sen Nash said.

"We've heard the concerns of rural communities and we're taking action.

"Our new system more accurately identifies communities where doctor shortages exist and better supports the recruitment of new doctors to areas in need.

"The new map system has been developed in consultation with doctors and regional communities, and is updated with the latest population and Medicare data. Previously, 2004 data had been used."

The Daily Examiner has contacted the NSW Rural Doctors Network. Its CEO Ian Cameron will talk to the paper about this issue on Monday.

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