Victoria's rural areas are experiencing workforce shortages, particularly for proceduralists, allied and oral health workers. These shortages are predicted to spread to other health disciplines. Workforce redesign is necessary to better use the skills of our current health workforce. Restrictive work practices must be overcome to allow an expanded scope of practice for health professionals in rural areas.
Supporting the Rural Workforce
The VHA is involved in the Roads to Rural Practice project, which is identifying clear pathways for those wanting to become GP - Rural Generalists. This will enable more rural GPs to take on procedural roles, especially in obstetrics.
More professional support is also needed for existing healthcare employees, particularly in low attraction areas. The continuing professional development needs of healthcare professionals can be overlooked because it is often difficult and costly to acquire locum coverage.
Workforce shortages are exacerbated by the difficulty recruiting people to rural areas. Improved local education and training opportunities would help keep workers in rural areas. The VHA supports Victoria's rural clinical schools, but more support is needed for small rural health services to take healthcare students on placement. Without support, it is often difficult for small rural health services to invest the money and time required to host placements.
The VHA believes increased investment in telemedicine will enhance access to specialist services and help address workforce shortages in rural communities. However, barriers to be addressed include insufficient broadband capacity in some locations, obsolete IT systems, and funding models that discourage cooperation.
New workforce models are important to workforce redesign, but are insufficient without appropriate funding mechanisms. The VHA believes the Medicare Benefits Schedule could be reformed to ensure a more equitable distribution of the workforce. This would require funding on the basis of health outcomes, rather than throughput, and access to funding for a broader range of healthcare professionals and services. Innovation should be supported through flexible funding models. Incentive systems should be reformed and expanded to include other healthcare disciplines, such as oral and allied health, to attract enough workers to rural areas.