Federal regional health minister Mark Coulton says rural health services have become too reliant on using fly-in-fly-out doctors to staff their hospitals.
Speaking in Wagga on Friday, Mr Coulton said short-term fixes for regional healthcare, such as the use of locum doctors, had actually exacerbated ongoing medical workforce shortages in the bush.
"We've been paying locums exorbitant fees to fill in gaps ... And so what we've actually done is developed the whole industry of locum doctors, and we are rewarding people for coming part time," he said.
"We've just got to be careful that we don't exacerbate the problem by trying to come up with a silver bullet fix, but we do need to fill in those gaps.
"I'm not personally against locums. But that system has has not helped overcome the problem we have in the long term."
As part of his visit to Wagga, Mr Coulton met with Murrumbidgee Local Health District officials to discuss the newly-launched rural generalist training program, which is being trialled as a potential long-term solution to doctor shortages in the region.
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"What we have recognised is that the model of having a general practitioner come to town and setting up and staying for 40 years and retiring is probably not going to be lasting much longer," Mr Coulton said.
"We are looking at other areas, not only in NSW, but right across Australia, where we may be able to help [support new training models] and look at a completely different way of delivering health services."
Mr Coulton was joined in Wagga by Nationals senator Perin Davey and rural health commissioner Ruth Stewart, to announce that Coolamon-based Wiradjuri pharmacist Faye McMillan will be the first deputy rural health commissioner.
Ms Davey, who lives near Deniliquin, said she knew "first-hand what it's like dealing with rural and regional health issues".
She acknowledged that the federal government heard about problems plaguing rural healthcare "all the time".
"What the rural and regional health commissioner is going to allow us to do is hear about the solutions, and then we can actively start putting in place solutions," she said.
"We're taking the issue of health services seriously, we are absolutely committed to addressing it."
Professor Stewart holds an independent statutory office that advises the federal government on rural and regional healthcare and advocates for improvement.
She will be assisted by Dr McMillan whose tenure in the deputy role will last until June 30, 2022.
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