21 Dec 2009

Worsening of rural doctor shortage feared

7:02 am on 21 December 2009

Rural doctors say they're worried changes to Australian rules making it easier for young New Zealand doctors to work across the Tasman will add to the shortage of rural GPs here.

The new rules, which are expected to be passed into law in April next year, will allow New Zealand-trained general practitioners to work in the bigger Australian centres instead of having to serve for 10 years in rural areas first.

Currently, doctors who are trained overseas cannot take on patients under Australia's publicly funded healthcare system Medicare unless they work in an area where there's a recognised shortage of doctors.

But from next year doctors taught at New Zealand medical schools will no longer be considered as doctors trained overseas, and will thus be exempt from the requirements.

The Rural General Practice Network's deputy chair, Dr Tim Malloy, says this decision will affect New Zealand's medical workforce generally, not just the rural sector.

He says New Zealand already loses a large number of junior doctors to Australia through the hospital system, but if the changes go through, then graduates will be able to work in GP practices in urban Australia.