Dr Ayman Shenouda
Announcing the Collingrove Agreement following the rural and regional health forum in Canberra on Friday 9 February 2018 from L–R: ACRRM’s Dr Michael Beckoff, National Rural Health Commissioner Professor Paul Worley, Minister for Rural Health Bridget McKenzie, RACGP Rural Chair A/Prof Ayman Shenouda.
A milestone agreement
Those who have been part of this journey will understand the significance of the Collingrove Agreement. Although I think on this topic, even the most casual observer will be across the division that has chocked us for so long.
It’s been a long and often dusty road but we’re now steered in the right direction and towards developing a national rural generalist pathway together.
Finding that common ground was relatively easy in one sense.
You see, the one thing I’ve noticed having travelled extensively over the past four years as Chair of the RACGP rural faculty is that patience, passion and persistence is a common trait of rural GPs or any GP for that matter.
From Longreach to Carnavon or Katherine to Goolwa and everywhere in-between and regardless of which camp they belonged – ACRRM or RACGP - there lies a great determination and commitment for their patient and rural community. An unbreakable connection which binds us all in addressing rural health disadvantage and securing a healthier future for all.
Navigating slightly rougher terrain
But in finding that common ground between the two GP colleges - while the destination remained the same - the road itself was indeed rocky. So rocky in fact it required an all-terrain vehicle for all involved and sometimes perhaps a tank may have been a slightly better choice!
Still, despite years of division, I think it was that same spirit that made the Collingrove Agreement possible.
An easy headline it may have seemed to those filtering the news last Friday, but the “RACGP and ACRRM collaborating on national generalist pathway” was truly momentous. And certainly, for those around the table at Collingrove Homestead in the Barossa Valley, South Australia, collaboration soon became the only solution.
Sharing a picture for history’s sake of those present on those momentous couple of days 11-12 January 2018.
Securing the milestone agreement from L-R: Dr Melanie Considine, RACGP Rural Deputy Chair, RACGP Rural Chair A/Prof Ayman Shenouda, ACRRM Censor in Chief A/Prof David Campbell, our National Rural Health Commissioner Professor Paul Worley, ACRRM President A/Prof Ruth Steward and Dr Rose Ellis from the Rural Doctors Network.
A common goal
While the agreement itself is only four paragraphs long - the common ground here was significant. We had 7 million reasons to get this right.
It is about equity of access in meeting the health care needs of rural and remote Australians through a responsive needs-based solution.
Together we were determined to secure a strong, sustainable and skilled national medical workforce to meet the needs of these communities.
More than a definition
This is, of course, more than a about a definition but it was always a sticking point.
On one hand there were those focussed on the name or a tendency to favour a definition over others. On the other, we knew that developing skills around the ongoing care considerations are the areas that best serve the community.
And there’s the commonality – supporting doctors to acquire the skills to meet the needs of their communities. A dedicated and clear pathway for rural GPs to acquire those skills and utilise them in a way that is valued and recognised are important workforce factors.
This was the cohesion that brought the clarity to the definition.
So here is it -
“A Rural Generalist (RG) is a medical practitioner who is trained to meet the specific current and future health care needs of Australian rural and remote communities, in a sustainable and cost-effective way, by providing both comprehensive general practice and emergency care, and required components of other medical specialist care in hospital and community settings as part of a rural healthcare team.”
Beyond the definition, it is the careful design of the pathway itself that will make the most difference. It needs to be a lot of things but at its core it is about ensuring the right skill mix against demand with supportive elements offering flexibility and choice.
Key features which include a clear pathway for young doctors with flexibility that allows entry and exit at different stages. Ensuring adequate funding for the pathway itself alongside essential factors in establishing a critical mass of trainees but with enough flexibility for it to work within the varying jurisdictions.
It should also allow lateral entry for practising GPs and other rural doctors who want to acquire new skills to address the shifting need in these communities. Ever changing needs like mental health and palliative care and in dealing with the extra problems which depend on the health needs and context of the community.
The full range of competencies enabling them to deliver patient care closer to home in the primary and secondary care contexts. Or quite simply, training young doctors with the right skill set that makes them feel safe and supported to do their job which is addressing rural and remote community needs.
There’s usually some bleeding before healing
Despite years of focus, the disparity of health service delivery in rural and remote Australia remains a key policy failure. Much has been left to our overseas trained doctors who have been the backbone in delivering this care over this time. The lack of a solid training or workforce solution meant that the rural health system depended on individual efforts with very mixed results.
Sometimes I feel the split between the colleges had to happen for us to be able to reach this agreement. The Collingrove Agreement is the culmination of 20 years of hard work by both Colleges in building capacity to deliver a needs-based solution for rural health.
We’ve seen more collaboration over the past year than in the preceding 20 - through Bi-College Accreditation to this historic Collingrove Agreement. So, let’s keep it up!
A Rural Generalist Pathway Taskforce is being formed in the coming months to work through the pathway design. There may still be a long road beyond Collingrove Homestead but I think this time it will be the recently resurfaced type!