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National GP leaders arrive in NT for remote community visits

The leaders of Australia’s largest professional general practice body are visiting remote Northern Territory this week along with local experts in a bid to strengthen long-term GP training in the region and address the ongoing issue of rural and remote GP shortages.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) President-Elect Dr Nicole Higgins and Vice-President Dr Bruce Willett have joined Northern Territory General Practice Education (NTGPE) on a four-day Top End visit of the Territory.

The trip, which takes place less than three months before GP training in Australia transitions to RACGP and the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM), will include visits to the following remote NT communities:

  • Wurrumiyanga (Tiwi Islands)

  • Jabiru

  • Gunbalanya (Oenpelli)

  • Galiwinku (Elcho Island)

  • Nhulunbuy (Gove)

  • Groote Eylandt

  • Maningrida.

The group will visit remote primary health care centres across the Top End to meet with doctors and other health professionals, as well as traditional owners, Aboriginal Elders and key local figures, and listen to community health needs and discuss the transition to College-led GP training.

RACGP President-Elect Dr Higgins said: “I’d like to thank NTGPE for all their amazing work. We are humbled to be part of this handover as GP training transitions to RACGP.

“We’ve been privileged to be welcomed into communities where we’ve had the opportunity to listen to their stories, and their need for more GPs and health workers.

“RACGP has heard, and we look forward to continuing our relationship and working with the staff, cultural educators, mentors and communities in the Northern Territory.”

NTGPE Chief Executive Officer Dr Richard Zanner said it was a real coup to have RACGP’s leaders spend time in the NT exploring the region’s most challenging communities in relation to primary health care.

“We need more permanent, longer-term solutions to address social determinants of health care which comprise a great proportion of the source of GP visits in the NT, and this week is an important step in the right direction,” said Dr Zanner. “Ultimately strong communities make for strong people, and primary health care is an integral part of getting us there”

“The purpose of the visits is to work with remote communities in the NT in handing over the custodianship of a very important training program for GPs to the Colleges, including providing a cultural understanding of each community’s needs.

“Over the past 20 years, NTGPE has supported hundreds of GP registrars choosing to train on the Australian General Practice Training (AGPT) program on their pathway to fellowship, and we are proud of the training program developed here in the Territory.

“The transition to College-led GP training on 1 February 2023 is a significant moment in the history of GP training in Australia, and we are committed to working with the Colleges to ensure a smooth transition.

“I’d like to thank Dr Higgins and Dr Willett for visiting NT’s remote Top End communities with us, and we are confident it will give them a key insight into local primary health needs.”

NTGPE Chair Dr Emma Kennedy said it was important to connect the Colleges to local communities.

“It’s the communities which are going to strengthen GP training, and we need to involve the communities, GP supervisors and training posts into the decisions affecting GP training into the future and link in with the expertise on the ground,” Dr Kennedy said.

“We're handing over the know how and experience to continue quality training of doctors in the Northern Territory, and we want to ensure that communities that are training our doctors are aware of the transition.

“It’s really important to have RACGP’s leaders here this week as it demonstrates the commitment that the Colleges have to ensuring local continuity and local expertise in our training, and to get to know the strengths and challenges we have in training doctors in the Territory.

“The value of the Colleges is that our GPs across the Territory who are supervising our registrars in training have opportunities for ongoing professional development and will be more cohesively linked to the national professional model.

“We are also in need of more doctors, and the possibilities provided by having Colleges leading GP training will give us some further interest to engage and recruit and retain more doctors in the NT.”

The Top End visit group includes:

  • Dr Nicole Higgins, RACGP President-Elect

  • Dr Bruce Willett, RACGP Vice-President

  • Dr Emma Kennedy, NTGPE Chair

  • Dr Richard Zanner, NTGPE CEO

  • Peter Thomsen, NTGPE Director Cultural Education

  • Christine Heatherington-Tait, NTGPE Director of Programs.

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