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New classification could attract more GPs to Toowoomba amid doctor shortage

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GP clinics in Toowoomba will have more options for hiring and a larger pool of doctors to recruit from after the region’s Distribution Priority Area status was changed.

Toowoomba is now classified as a DPA following an application to the Federal Government’s “exceptional circumstances” review.

It means clinics can now recruit overseas trained doctors and bonded medical practitioners.

Students who have accepted a Commonwealth Supported Place in an Australian medical course in return for a commitment to work in a regional, rural and remote area at the end of their studies must also work in a DPA.

Federal Member for Groom Garth Hamilton said the successful application from Toowoomba means local medical practises in the catchment have more opportunity to address local GP doctor shortages.

“This change gives local GP practises a larger pool of doctors to recruit from, which should make it easier for clinics to secure more doctors for the Toowoomba Region,” Mr Hamilton said.

“The DPA classification identifies regions where people find it harder to see a doctor, based on the needs of the community.

“Although the classification is updated each year, several medical practises in this area indicated they had been hit by sudden and unexpected changes and unmet demand during the pandemic period and had found it especially difficult to recruit doctors to the area.”

Reasons might include the retirement of GPs without replacement, changes in socioeconomic circumstances of the area, increasing GP waiting times, increasing Emergency Department presentations for GP type treatments or a sharp increase in patient numbers and patient needs.

Mr Hamilton said the DPA classification does not guarantee a doctor, but it allows medical clinics in DPA catchments to recruit doctors subject to location restrictions, such as those who trained overseas.

“Having enough doctors is fundamental to any community and that’s even more true when you live or work in a regional area like the Toowoomba region,” Mr Hamilton said.

“For people of all ages, from babies to the elderly, being able to see a doctor when you have an illness or injury is important to your health and wellbeing.”

Federal Regional Health Minister, Dr David Gillespie said he set up the review process to ensure that an area’s DPA status was based on contemporaneous information, supported vulnerable patient cohorts and was responsive to the significant workforce and population changes.

The exceptional circumstances review applications were considered by an independent working group, which made recommendations to Mr Gillespie.