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Redistribution of rural bonus welcomed

PRESS RELEASE TO:

All Health Reporters/Chief Executives/Press Officers

FROM: Dr Helen Kingston, Rural GP Network Chair
Dr Pippa MacKay, NZMA Chairman

DATE: September 7, 1999

SUBJECT: Redistribution of rural bonus welcomed

The Rural GP Network and the New Zealand Medical Association welcome the new system of paying a bonus to rural GPs, but say more initiatives are needed to confront the problems facing rural general practice.

Traditionally, rural GPs received an extra 10 percent on their general medical services claim to compensate them for the difficulties of working in rural areas. Under the new proposal, a ranking system will be introduced which means GPs working in the most remote and difficult circumstances will receive a higher bonus.

The system is expected to be fairer overall, although some doctors will no longer receive a rural bonus. No extra money is involved - the current level of money is being redistributed.

The rural bonus has been negotiated by the Rural GP Network and the Health Funding Authority. The NZMA, which works closely with the Network, has formally given its agreement.

"The new rural bonus system will lead to more equity," said NZMA Chairman Dr Pippa MacKay, "But more incentives are needed to make rural general practice an attractive option for doctors, so people who live in rural areas are not disadvantaged."

Rural GPs face problems including low incomes, isolation for them and their families, and difficulties getting locums.

"The Rural GP Network is encouraged that fairer distribution of the current bonus to GPs in rural areas is now to be a reality", said Network chair Dr Helen Kingston. "This is the result of years of hard work, lobbying and negotiation by members of the Network. There has been an encouraging amount of goodwill with the HFA over the past few months."

The rural bonus is only a small part of the incentive package promoted by the Rural GP Network to support and strengthen rural practice, she said.

"Support means more than merely giving extra money to some GPs (noting that others will have less). Rural practice involves teamwork with practice nurses, and with the community in which these health professionals work. The needs of the doctor's spouse and family must not be forgotten.

"The Government and health funders need to take a comprehensive view in order to recruit and retain the best doctors, train them appropriately, prevent burnout, and assist with the provision of locums.

"The rural bonus doesn't cover these activities. For example, a lump sum locum subsidy, which provided substantial assistance 25 years ago, now provides only a couple of hours' pay for a locum, and will be abolished in any case under the new system.

"This rural bonus reallocation is a definite step in the right direction, but a further package of incentives is now needed," Dr Kingston said.

ENDS


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