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Boost for Cairns primary care workforce

Published 22 February 2022

Local general practices now able to better respond to workforce needs through reclassification of Cairns’ DPA status.


Member for Leichhardt Mr Warren Entsch MP announced on Friday (18 February) that the Cairns region has been provided Distribution Priority Area (DPA) status under exceptional circumstances.

The announcement came following an application by three local clinics for an exceptional circumstances review as well as advocacy for the change by Northern Queensland Primary Health Network (NQPHN) in collaboration with Health Workforce Queensland.

The Australian Government uses the Distribution Priority Area (DPA) indicator to identify distribution challenges in Australia’s medical workforce.

Factors considered for DPA status include patient flows using Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) data, Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) demographic data, the size of the GP workforce, the location and number of practices, and the region’s size and geography.

Under the system, general practices in places with DPA status can employ international medical graduates and Australian-trained bonded doctors who are required to work in priority areas to access the MBS.

NQPHN Chief Executive Officer Robin Whyte said NQPHN welcomed the announcement by Mr Entsch as it will assist local practices to recruit GPs.

“The change to Cairns’ DPA status is a great outcome for the region and reflects what we and general practice have been advocating for,” said Ms Whyte.

“The issue of GP and other primary care workforce shortages is arguably the most significant problem facing primary health care delivery in rural and remote Australia, and is an issue that NQPHN takes very seriously.

“Practices in Cairns are experiencing GP shortages and patients are regularly waiting weeks to see a GP, some are even closing their doors to new patients.

“With the opening of the borders, and emergence of the highly contagious Omicron variant in Queensland, we are seeing more and more cases of COVID-19 in the Far North and more pressure being put on our general practice workforce.

“DPA status for the Cairns region provides support to practices by giving them access to a larger recruitment pool to fill gaps in staffing and increase their capacity to provide services to residents.

“I’d like to thank Mr Entsch for their support to obtain DPA status for Cairns.

“It’s also important to recognise and thank general practice for providing exceptional care to residents at this very busy time and with stretched resources.”

Last updated: 23 February 2022