INDUSTRY HEALTH CHECK: The 2019 AMA Rural Health Issues survey shows rural doctors struggling.
INDUSTRY HEALTH CHECK: The 2019 AMA Rural Health Issues survey shows rural doctors struggling. Contributed

'Overlooked': Survey results show rural doctors need help

DOCTORS in rural and regional areas like the South Burnett are calling for change.

Findings from the 2019 AMA Rural Health Issues Survey highlight a need for more staff and workable rosters as critical priorities in rural areas.

The survey also identified a need for more trainee doctors in the bush, as well as advanced facilities and equipment at hospitals.

AMA president Dr Tony Bartone said the survey results revealed a struggling system that was held together by hard-working doctors who needed help.

"All of the groups surveyed identified extra funding and resources for staff, including core visiting medical officers (VMOs), to allow workable rosters as their top priority,” Dr Bartone said.

"This reflects rural doctors' long-held concerns about the lack of staffing in rural hospitals, the high workload, and the significant levels of responsibility placed on hospital doctors and VMOs.”

The surveyed groups included GPs, non-GP specialists, salaried doctors, doctors in training, and other medical professionals.

"Poorly-designed rosters and staff shortages lead to fatigue, and doctors in training often have a significant burden of responsibility placed on them in rural hospitals,” Dr Bartone said.

According to the AMA, the results have barely changed since the last survey was conducted in 2016.

"While there have been some positive developments as a result of the 2016 survey, the impact of these initiatives will not be felt in rural communities for years,” Dr Bartone said.

"Australians who live in rural and remote areas cities have poorer health outcomes than those who live in cities. They access Medicare at far lower rates than city dwellers and wait longer to see their GP.”

Dr Bartone worries that people are overlooking the issues at hand.

"Rural communities have fewer doctors and are finding it increasingly difficult to attract new ones,” he said.

"The AMA is calling for immediate funding to improve infrastructure, and to support more doctors to build their lives and careers in rural areas.”

Despite the stress and need for change, Dr Bartone said the survey showed an overwhelming job satisfaction that rural doctors gained from their work.

"Rural doctors enjoy treating generations of families, feeling involved in their communities, and tackling a wide range of health conditions,” he said.

"Rural doctors love their work - they just need more support to keep doing it.”