Several towns across South Australia will offer GPs up to $10,000 in a bid to attract more doctors to regional areas under a new pay deal.

Key points:

  • GPs will be offered an additional $10,000 signing-on bonus to move and work in regional SA
  • Doctors will be compensated for a broad range of non-clinical commitments such as teaching, training and supervision
  • GPs who are already working in the country will be able to access a recognition payment of $5,000

Mount Pleasant, Kapunda, Eudunda, Barmera, Meningie, Mannum, Renmark, Waikerie, Bordertown, Kingston, Millicent, Penola, Clare and Hawker are among the 32 towns that will offer new GPs the signing-on bonus.

The $10,000 bonus will be available to GPs who move to one of the 32 eligible towns and will be added to the existing $50,000 signing-on deal offered to GPs who move to regional SA towns.

A recognition payment of up to $5,000 will be available to each current GP signing on to the new agreement to acknowledge their service and ongoing commitment to rural and regional communities

The four-year deal will also compensate doctors for various non-clinical tasks such as teaching and supervising trainee doctors.

The GP for Loxton in South Australia’s Riverland, Peter Hamilton, said anything encouraging doctors into country areas was a bonus, but there was still more work to do.

Peter Hamilton is a general practitioner in Loxton, in the Riverland.(Supplied: Peter Hamilton)

“A one-off grant is lovely, to help people establish, to move and set up in a new town … but general practice has over the years … become less and less attractive,” he said.

Amid the current workforce shortage, Dr Hamilton said it was important to keep doctors in regional areas rather than just attracting new ones.

“If you can get someone and keep them, it saves you a lot of difficulty — particularly in smaller areas,” he said.

“To get someone to commit to being there more permanently is a great relief for the community.”

The agreement was negotiated between the Australian Medical Association, the Rural Doctors’ Association of South Australia and the Rural Support Service.

Australian Medical Association president John Williams said the deal was a good start to reforming rural health.

“This is the start of a turnaround … there needs to be a financial incentive to get doctors out into the country and to support them in doing that,” Dr Williams said.

“The most exciting thing about this new contract is the support for training and teaching in rural as well.

“This is something that hasn’t been supported by previous governments.”

Perception of general practice a challenge

A lack of medical students electing to study general practice as a speciality has been attributed to the national GP shortage.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) said the industry needed to raise the “prestige” of general practice to help fix regional doctor shortages.

Flinders University Dean of Rural Health Robyn Aitken has been trying to encourage more medical students to consider general practice.

“For some time, students and new graduates have felt general practice has been a bit of the poor cousin,” she said.

“So the specialities have been elevated as something that’s more prestigious than general practice.”

Chris Picton says the new four-year deal will help attract more GPs to rural settings.(ABC News)

Health Minister Chris Picton said a new program through Flinders University would be starting to help increase the supply of rural trainee doctors.

“There’ll be 40 doctors trained every single year, based in regional South Australia for all of their training through medical school,” Mr Picton said.

“Up until now … doctors have been doing all their training at university in the city.

“They’ve been doing their first postgraduate training in city hospitals, and we were just sort of crossing our fingers and hoping that they’ll go to country areas.”

The new rates will start on February 1, 2024 and will be indexed annually.