Number of doctors in First Nations communities in WA expected to be reduced from 56 to 19

WA Aboriginal health at crisis
A proposed policy to change funding for Aboriginal Community Controlled GPs will reduce doctors servicing Aboriginal people, according to the Aboriginal Health Council of WA

Source: ABC TV News

ABC 24 November 2015

The number of doctors working in Western Australia's First Nations Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS) will be reduced from 56 to 19 under a policy proposed by the Federal Government, according to the Aboriginal Health Council of WA.

"We currently have 56 doctors working in our sector. With this decision that will severely reduce that back to 19 doctors," the council's chairwoman Michelle Nelson-Cox told ABC Kimberley.

"As an example, if the new funding arrangements were to be implemented in 2016, the Aboriginal health services in the Kimberley would lose 15 of the 18 GPs who have been offered positions for the first half of the year," Ms Nelson-Cox said.

The proposed funding changes are part of a draft policy that was released by the Government for comment on November 17.

The changes include reducing salary support for GPs working in ACCHS from three-year contracts to single-year contracts, according to Ms Nelson-Cox.

"Our doctors are salaried through the Federal Government," she said.

"In order for our doctors to have a viable relationship and deliver quality patient care, it takes quite a long and lengthy process for our doctors to actually engage with our clients."

Change would negatively impact patient health

Ms Nelson-Cox said high rates of acute and chronic health problems combined with cultural and language barriers meant that reducing the number of doctors and the length of their contracts would negatively impact Indigenous health.

Michelle Nelson-Cox says the Federal Government's draft policy will severely reduce doctor numbers
Aboriginal Health Council of WA chairwoman Michelle Nelson-Cox says the Federal Government's draft policy will severely reduce doctor numbers in Aboriginal Community Controlled Health

Source: ABC News: Robert Koenig-Luck

"It means now that we're not going to be able to accommodate full-time doctors to meet the needs of Aboriginal patients," she said.

Although Ms Nelson-Cox acknowledged the draft policy was now open for comment, she was critical of the Federal Government for not consulting the Aboriginal Health Council more.

"The Government once again is making this decision without the consultation and inclusiveness of our sector," she said.

Funding will not change, government says

An Australian Government Department of Health spokesperson told the ABC that the proposed policy did not change the intent of the GP funding.

"Salary support funding was always intended to be provided for a maximum of 12 months per GP registrar, to ensure that GP registrars are experiencing a broad range of training opportunities and settings," the spokesperson said.

"Currently, GP registrars undertake training in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities (and receive salary support) for approximately 52 weeks. The draft policy formalises this."

The spokesperson also said that funding would not be changed next year.

"Over $26 million is being provided for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Salary Support in 2015. This level of funding will continue to be provided in 2016," the spokesperson said.

The review of the policy is aimed at encouraging more GPs to gain experience in Indigenous health, according to the department spokesperson.

"The Department of Health is reviewing the salary support programme and has drafted a salary support programme policy to ensure that salary support is more effectively used, to encourage all GP registrars to consider undertaking part of their training in an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health training facility," the spokesperson said.