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19 Oct 2015

It's been a chequered time for medical workforce planning in recent years.

Health Workforce Australia (HWA) was a Commonwealth statutory authority established in 2009 to deliver a national and co-ordinated approach to health workforce planning, and had started to make substantial progress toward improving medical workforce planning and coordination. It had delivered two national medical workforce reports and formed the National Medical Training Advisory Network (NMTAN) to enable a nationally coordinated medical training system.

Regrettably, before it could realise its full potential, the Government axed HWA in the 2014-15 Budget, and its functions were moved to the Health Department. This was a short-sighted decision, and it is taking time to rebuild the workforce planning capacity that was lost.

NMTAN is now the Commonwealth's main medical workforce training advisory body, and is focusing on planning and coordination.

It includes representatives from the main stakeholder groups in medical education, training and employment. Dr Danika Thiemt, Chair of the AMA Council of Doctors in Training, sits with me as the AMA representatives on the network.

Our most recent meeting was late last month, and the discussions there make us hopeful that NMTAN is finally in a position where it can significantly lift its output, contribution and value to medical workforce planning.

In its final report, Australia's Future Health Workforce, HWA confirmed that Australia has enough medical school places.

Instead, it recommended the focus turn to improving the capacity and distribution of the medical workforce − and encouraging future medical graduates to train in the specialties and locations where they will be needed to meet future community demands for health care.

The AMA supports this approach, but it will require robust modelling.

NMTAN is currently updating HWA modelling on the psychiatry, anaesthetic and general practice workforces. We understand that the psychiatry workforce report will be released soon. This will be an important milestone given what has gone before.

Nonetheless, it will be important to lift the number of specialties modelled significantly now that we have the basic approach in place, so that we will have timely data on imbalances across the full spectrum of specialties.

The AMA Medical Workforce Committee recently considered what NMTAN’s modelling priorities should be for 2016.

Based on its first-hand knowledge of the specialities at risk of workforce shortage and oversupply, the committee identified the following specialty areas as priorities: emergency medicine; intensive care medicine; general medicine; obstetrics and gynaecology; paediatrics; pathology and general surgery.

NMTAN is also developing some factsheets on supply and demand in each of the specialities - some of which now available from the Department of Health’s website ( I encourage you to take a look.

These have the potential to give future medical graduates some of the career information they will need to choose a specialty with some assurance that there will be positions for them when they finish their training.

Australia needs to get its medical workforce planning back on track.

Let's hope that NMTAN and the Department of Health are up to the task.

Published: 19 Oct 2015