Changes to rural places approved
Parliament has approved the Health Insurance Amendment (Bonded Medical Programs Reform) Bill 2019, which will completely overhaul the Bonded Medical Places (BMP) and Medical Rural Bonded Scholarship (MRBS) programs, as announced in the 2018-19 Federal Budget.
The reformed arrangements will apply to all new program participants from January 2020.
AMA President Dr Tony Bartone said important reforms to medical bonding programs will benefit medical graduates and the rural and under-serviced communities they will serve as doctors.
Dr Bartone said the changes follow extensive lobbying by the AMA Council of Doctors in Training (AMACDT) and the AMA and will effectively standardise conditions for bonded medical graduates, moving away from the current contract-based arrangements.
“Both the MRBS and BMP schemes have failed to make meaningful progress towards addressing workforce shortages in rural areas and other underserviced communities,” he said.
“This was largely due to their inflexible program design and failure to recognise that people’s circumstances can change dramatically from the time they enter medical school to the period when they must complete their return of service obligations.
“The new arrangements will provide participants with greater flexibility, more certainty in relation to where they can work in the future, and will require much less red tape and compliance.
“This is good news for bonded medical graduates and for communities in desperate need of local doctors and medical services.”
In working with the Government to design the new program, the AMA consulted widely with members who were participating in the BMP and MRBS schemes. The AMA is confident that the new arrangements will better support bonded medical graduates and help improve access to vital medical care in those communities where they are needed.
The AMA will continue to work with the Department of Health to finalise the implementation of these reforms.
Dr Bartone said while Australia has one of the best health systems in the world, with a highly trained and skilled workforce, not all Australians have equal access to all the benefits.
“Our rural doctors and other health professionals are highly skilled, totally dedicated to their communities, and provide high quality care to their patients – in general practices, public hospitals, and other settings,” he said.
“Our hardworking rural doctors work very long and sometimes unusual hours, many are constantly on call, they provide high quality care leading multi-disciplinary health care teams, and they are committed to their patients and local communities.
“But they are working in environments and with equipment that are not keeping pace with modern and complex medicine, and the unique health and emergency demands of remote and isolated communities.
“The hospital infrastructure, the equipment, and overall resourcing are in most areas not at the levels available in the cities and larger centres.
“Rural health is at a crisis point. There is an urgent need for significant investment in rural hospitals, equipment, and medical and health workforce. Despite the difficulties and challenges, the rural health workforce continues to provide quality care.”
Dr Bartone acknowledged that the Federal Government has recently acted with a National Medical Workforce Strategy and the National Rural Generalist Pathway, but so much more needs to be done.
Published: 25 Sep 2019