Easier access to rural grant honeypot

3 minute read

Canberra is promising to make it simpler for rural practices to get access to infrastructure funding


Millions of dollars in unspent infrastructure grants are being offered to non-urban general practices under a new scheme promising easier terms and conditions.

The new Rural General Practice Grants scheme replaces the failed Rural and Regional Training Infrastructure Grants (RRTIG) program, which was established in 2014-15 with a commitment of $52.5 million for up to 175 grants over three years.

The RRTIG was spectacularly undersubscribed, even though the honeypot was dangled at a time when GP business models were being squeezed by the Medicare rebate freeze and rural doctor training was in drought.

In 2013-14, only 10 of a possible 100 RRTIG grants were taken up, and in 2014-15 just 43. In 2015-16, the Department of Health said it made offers to 74 grant applicants but 20 backed out, and, at last notice, negotiations with the rest were incomplete.

“The main reasons cited for withdrawal were the amount of the grant to be awarded and limitations in how the grant funds could be utilised,” the department said.

“A more streamlined and simplified two-step application process is now open,” Rural Health Minister David Gillespie said, announcing the new offer on November 18.

Grants of up to $300,000 apiece will be available in 2017 for rural and regional practices to improve their training capabilities for medical students and registrars, such as new building and fit-outs of premises as well as purchases of communications and medical equipment.

The Rural Doctors Association of Australia has welcomed the promise of a more flexible program, open to practices from outer metropolitan areas to the outback.

The previous application process was onerous, complicated and time-consuming, putting it out of reach of many small practices that did not have the time or expertise to successfully apply, the association said.

“Grants enabling doctors to improve and expand their training facilities will play a key role in the recruitment and retention of the rural doctor workforce of the future,” association president Dr Ewen McPhee said.

“Improved training facilities such as communications technology will also ensure that rural doctors can increase their own training opportunities so they can continue to keep their skills current.”

The $300,000 cap is the same as under the RRTIG program. But practice consultant David Dahm said the new scheme also retained a number of obstacles that had detracted from the old offer.

GPs not only needed to match the government’s investment dollar for dollar, but the grant money would be taxed. This meant practices would have to do a very careful cost-benefit analysis to make sure it would be worth their while.

Expressions of interest are sought by December 13.

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