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Filling the gaps

New rights for nurse practitioners have been welcomed, but will rural health teams survive?

The fact that nurse practitioners now have access to the Medicare Benefits Scheme and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme mustn’t obscure that fact that there is a serious shortage of doctors in many parts of the country.

This is according to the National Rural Health Alliance (NRHA), which said it was essential that nurse practitioners were encouraged and supported to fill gaps in rural areas where one of the key members of the team - the doctor - was in short supply.

"We expect there will soon be some new Medicare items for telehealth consultations and it will be important that they are available to support nurse practitioners as well as doctors in rural and remote communities,” said Dr Jenny May, chair of NRHA.

“However, telehealth cannot replace first line health care on the ground and so far there is little evidence that the policies and incentives are in place to encourage a sufficient number of new medical graduates to the Australian bush."

The Alliance plans to redouble its efforts to encourage the government to provide training, placements and continuing professional development for medical trainees and existing GPs to work in rural, regional and remote areas.

It will also ask the Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, to put in place a new program in next year's budget to provide specific incentives for nurse practitioners to work in towns without a resident GP - and to provide funding to support the training of new nurse practitioners, said May.

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