2 November 2022
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the Minister for Regional Development on the topic of regional health.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: In March 2020, the then Marshall Liberal government temporarily closed several rural accident and emergency departments due to COVID-19. Now, 2½ years later, the emergency departments at the following locations are still closed: Gumeracha, Strathalbyn, Mount Pleasant and Eudunda. Some of the hospitals have claimed they are not able to attract medical staff to regional hospitals. The Gumeracha medical centre has called it a 'crisis in our medical workforce'.
My question to the minister therefore is: what is the government doing to ensure that the health needs of regional communities are being met, and is the Minister for Regional Development developing strategies for attracting medical practitioners to the regions, so that these emergency departments can reopen?
The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries): I thank the honourable member for his question. Certainly, regional health is an issue that comes up very frequently when I am out on one of my various and numerous regional trips, and certainly it is something that I have raised a number of times internally. In terms of the specifics about strategies being developed, I will refer that to my colleague in the other place, the Minister for Health, and bring an answer back to the honourable member and the chamber.
Reply received on 21 February 2023:
The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries): The Minister for Health and Wellbeing has been advised:
A working group was established to consider the emergency services options for this community.
The working group recommended an after-hours nurse-led clinic based at Gumeracha District Soldiers' Memorial Hospital, with virtual support from a medical practitioner. Under the proposal, the after-hours clinic would operate Monday to Friday 4pm to 8pm, and Saturdays and Sundays 10am to 4pm. A community forum was held on 12 January 2023 to inform the broader community on the details of the proposed model, which was supported. The community now have the opportunity to provide feedback until 27 January 2023, and staff consultation has commenced.
A similar process is now underway for Strathalbyn with a working group having met twice before Christmas to consider options.
Extensive work is underway to ensure we are attracting medical practitioners to all regional and rural areas of South Australia, recognising their importance to the health and the fabric of rural communities. South Australia's Rural Medical Workforce Plan 2019-24 lays out these strategies, the most critical of which has been the successful introduction of South Australia's Rural Generalist training program. The SA Rural Generalist Program is increasing the number of doctors who specifically train in rural medicine in a regional and rural community, based on evidence that the longer doctors spend training in a rural area, the more likely they are to practise long-term in that community. The Rural Generalist Program SA has overseen a significant expansion in rural medical training, with 2023 projected to see further increases. For example, rural intern positions have more than tripled to 18 in 2022 and intern rotations from metropolitan to rural areas increased from 20 in 2019 to 47 in 2022.
The South Australian government also supports the recruitment and retention of rural doctors by funding the Rural Doctors Workforce Agency to undertake targeted recruitment campaigns and to provide supports including upskilling, spouse and childcare supports and business supports to attract rural doctors to South Australia.
In addition, the government has committed to a staged rollout of 10 specialist doctors in regional South Australia, establishing more local medical services for local communities.