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13 Dec 2012

The AMA recently made a submission to the Review of Australian Government Health Workforce Programs, which is examining Commonwealth programs and activities designed to increase, train, support, plan, and distribute the Australian health workforce.

The AMA submission provides a thorough assessment of existing Commonwealth health workforce programs and sets out a range of proposals to improve community access to doctors.

The submission highlights key challenges presently facing the medical workforce including:

  • An overall shortage of doctors, with some specialties affected more than others;
  • Maldistribution of doctors, particularly affecting rural areas and, to a lesser extent, outer metropolitan areas;
  • Emerging bottlenecks in the medical training pipeline, exacerbated by a lack of planning and coordination between the Commonwealth and State/Territory Governments;
  • Heavy reliance on International Medical Graduates (IMG) and the application of the ten year moratorium, which often forces IMGs to work in  very challenging environments without the requisite skills or support; and
  • Access to doctors in certain settings, particularly aged care.

The submission acknowledges that the Commonwealth has taken steps to address medical workforce shortages, with medical graduate numbers growing rapidly since 2004, with nearly 4000 medical graduates per year expected by 2016.

The AMA believes this represents a great chance to improve community access to medical services provided that:

  • There are sufficient training places for these graduates throughout the medical training pipeline;
  • Robust workforce planning informs future policy development;
  • The right policies are in place to encourage doctors to work in those areas and specialties that are under-serviced; and
  • Policy settings continue to encourage team-based models of care, supporting medical practitioners to delegate aspects of patient care to other health professionals.

AMA President, Dr Steve Hambleton, said today that the AMA has highlighted the importance of the work being undertaken by Health Workforce Australia and its projections of future medical workforce needs.

“This work is essential to the planning and coordination of medical training places into the future,” Dr Hambleton said.

“While the States and Territories are responsible for supporting medical training in public hospitals, the Commonwealth Government has a significant role to play as medical graduate numbers grow.

“The Commonwealth will need to build on the investments it has already made in boosting prevocational and vocational training positions.

“The Prevocational GP Training Program, the Specialist Training Program, and the GP Training Program are essential to satisfying unmet need in the community and are playing an important role in expanding medical training capacity.

“It is becoming increasingly clear, based on the work of Health Workforce Australia, that these programs will need to be expanded beyond current targets.

“The planning for this needs to start now.”

The submission also addresses the particular needs of rural and remote Australia and calls for the adoption of the Rural Rescue Package, which is a comprehensive proposal for financial incentives to encourage GPs, other specialists, and junior doctors to work in rural and remote areas.

It recognises that incentives needed to be properly structured so that they recognise the isolation of rural and remote practice as well as the need for the right skill mix in these areas.

The AMA critiques the Commonwealth's Bonded Medical Places (BMP) Program, which has incentives attached and forces students to accept a medical school place on the basis that they will work in an area of workforce shortage - often many years after they will ultimately finish medical school.

Overseas evidence shows that bonding does not deliver long-term improvements to the medical workforce in rural areas.  At best, it is a short-term solution aimed at a long-term problem.

The AMA submission is at

13 December 2012

CONTACT:         John Flannery                       02 6270 5477 / 0419 494 761
                            Kirsty Waterford                  02 6270 5464 / 0427 209 753

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Published: 13 Dec 2012