AMA Vice President Dr Choong-Siew Yong said a report in yesterday's The Age newspaper about universities wanting to take over specialist medical training from the specialist Colleges is indicative of the dangerous new trend of Australian universities putting profits before people.
Dr Yong said the move by a group of universities, led by Melbourne University, is a blatant 'cash grab' that will do nothing to improve medical training or solve medical workforce shortages.
"This is an inappropriate and irresponsible approach that, if successful, would drive down the quality of medical training in Australia," Dr Yong said.
"The universities are already tripping over each other in the rush to get hold of the Government's new $200,000 full fee paying medical school places, and now they want the lot. How much do they intend to charge medical trainees to enter these courses, and how do they think they can provide better training than the Colleges?
"Medical Colleges have an enviable reputation for producing highly skilled medical practitioners and must be supported to continue their important role."
In recent years, the Colleges have been a target of Governments as they seek to shift blame for workforce problems. Yet, according to the 2005 Medical Training Review Panel Report there has been an increase of 40.6 per cent in first year vocational training positions since 1998. The 2003 Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Authorisation of the Royal Australian College of Surgeons (RACS) examined the public benefit of the College's training and assessment processes.
The ACCC found that these generated public benefits from high surgical standards and the pro bono contribution made by College Fellows to training. The value of pro bono training in surgery has been estimated by the College of Surgeons at $230 million per year. Through the pro bono system, doctors can access specialist training programs at a relatively low cost.
Under College training, the specialist trainees are actually working in the hospital system, providing an important service to the community.
Dr Yong said the introduction of universities into specialist training would drive up costs to trainees because of the increasing commercial pressures on universities to make bigger and bigger profits.
"The universities are claiming they can cut specialist training time," Dr Yong said.
"They must come clean on what elements of specialist training they want to cut because cuts to training equates to cuts in quality.
"The Colleges, on the other hand, insist on rigorous standards that mean State Governments must invest considerable money and resources into public hospitals. It looks like State Government bean counters are looking to the universities to give them 'cheaper specialists' and 'discount medicine', throwing quality out the window.
"If this proposal goes ahead, the universities will get the profits while Australian patients will face the losses in the form of lower quality health services," Dr Yong said.