It is critical that health professionals of all stripes working in remote areas have access to continuing professional development (CPD). Currently a range of organisations are involved in providing CPD, including the Rural Health Workforce Agencies, health professional associations, the State or Territory Department of Health, and the University Departments of Rural Health. Until their abolition on 30 June this year, Medicare Locals were also providing some of the CPD needed.
For the past five years there has also been a modest but significant amount of support provided for clinicians in more remote areas seeking CPD through stream 2 of the Rural Health Continuing Education program (RHCE2). This program has been administered for the Commonwealth Department of Health by the National Rural Health Alliance.
Sadly RHCE2 is being terminated at the end of this year. The Department is supporting work by the Alliance to bring together providers of CPD and other interested parties in rural and remote areas to try to ensure that health professionals' needs will still be met despite the abolition of Medicare Locals and the ending of RHCE2.
There is a general expectation that the new Primary Health Networks will identify unmet needs for CPD - just as they will identify other unmet service needs. However, they will be faced with the same stricture in relation to CPD as to other services: that they are not to be direct service providers but, rather, commissioners of services provided by others.
Guided by an ad hoc working group in each jurisdiction, the Alliance is running a series of networking and knowledge transfer meetings for interested parties. The 'roadshow' began in Broome, Perth and Geraldton in the week beginning 10 August. It soon became clear that, despite the significant amount of work in train, the situation in country Western Australia relating to access to CPD could be improved.
Efforts will hopefully continue in the State to bring together information about the need for CPD for particular purposes (chronic disease; aged care; interprofessional learning) and in particular regions. The three meetings held might be the stimulus for a statewide CPD network to be developed, if that is useful.
The series of planned meetings will equip the Alliance with accurate and up-to-date information which can be the basis for national advocacy on the matter. It is already clear that, without the efforts of RHCE2 and the Medicare Locals, there are serious gaps to be filled in the systematic provision of continuing professional development for health practitioners in rural and remote areas.