State promises cash for trainee GPs

4 minute read

Incentives to boost the appeal of general practice and cover exam costs are on the table as Victoria heads to its election.

A re-elected Victorian Labor government will offer financial incentives for medical graduates to enter general practice, Premier Dan Andrews has promised, in a move cautiously welcomed by the Australian Medical Students’ Association. 

Mr Andrews told reporters in Melbourne earlier today that if re-elected, Labor would invest $32 million to encourage junior doctors to enrol in GP training, which currently involves taking a significant pay cut. 

The measure would comprise $30,000 “top-up payments” for first-year trainees, designed to ensure they were not immediately financially disadvantaged by their choice of speciality. The package would also cover the costs of their first-year exams, with $10,000 available per trainee. 

“I think it’s a really great start,” said AMSA president Jasmine Davis, “but we’re looking forward to seeing a bit more detail, including who would be eligible and if this is going to be throughout the entirety of Victoria or if there’s any particular additional incentives for people in rural areas.” 

Mr Andrews acknowledged that the gap between the amount a trainee doctor can make in a hospital and as a GP was “significant”. 

“If you choose general practice, you’re forced to take a $30,000 pay cut,” Mr Andrews told reporters. “Now, that’s an active disincentive – a barrier, if you like – to more of our junior doctors choosing general practice. The best thing for us to do is to bridge that pay gap to make sure there’s no financial disincentive.” 

However, the program would currently only be available for two years, the premier said in an accompanying statement. 

Ms Davis said the top-up payment was largely on the money. 

“[The $30,000 payment] is definitely an incentive, and we’re really glad to see the state governments are starting to also invest in primary care,” she said. “We’ve been advocating for a long time that these investments do need to be incentives as we need to be positioning general practice as a place that is valued by our governments.” 

Ms Davis also welcomed the money to cover exams. 

“GP registrars often have a lot more difficulty transferring their entitlements across from hospitals,” she said, “and things like exam leave are something that’s quite rare in general practice. This might assist them if they do have to take time off or to pay for the exam themselves.” 

The announcement is the latest of several in which state governments have offered to contribute where healthcare is especially in crisis. 

“But [the funding] needs to come from somewhere,” Ms Davis said, “and at the end of the day, the most important thing about primary care is what we’re doing is keeping people out of hospitals. The state governments are very much responsible for public hospitals and they’re obviously starting to realise that to decrease the pressure on our public hospitals, and with ambulance ramping, we do need to invest in primary care.” 

“We also need to see that people are staying long-term. If we’re getting people into general practice, that’s great, but we also need to be making sure their career is sustainable and that they’re going to be working in the profession long-term and not feeling as though they’re not valued so they leave.” 

The RACGP’s Victorian chair, Dr Anita Muñoz, said the announcement came following the college’s call for greater investment in the GP training pipeline. 

“One of the problems we have holding back the GP workforce is that pay and leave benefits are not transferred as GP trainees rotate through different training positions,” Dr Muñoz said. “By covering the shortfall in income from leaving hospital work we can encourage more future doctors to give general practice training a red-hot go. 

“Covering the costs of sitting exams is also a really worthwhile initiative that will make a real difference and something that the RACGP applauds. These are positive steps forward and I encourage other states and territories to follow Victoria’s lead.” 

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