The Drayton Street Family Practice has been given conditional approval to expand its surgery.
The Drayton Street Family Practice has been given conditional approval to expand its surgery. Kevin Farmer

Why Gladstone's GP crisis will take 20 years to fix

IT WILL take almost two decades for doctors to start servicing Central Queensland if we rely on new medical schools, the Australian Medical Students' Association reveals.

The startling revelation comes after the association, the representative body for Australia's 17,000 medical students, called for a national strategy to address significant healthcare workforce challenges in regional Australia.

Last month CQUniversity confirmed it was working on a feasibility study that could lead to a new medical school opening to student doctors by 2021.

The university intends that medical school courses will be available at Rockhampton and Bundaberg campuses but AMSA president Alexandra Farrell slammed the move and said it was a "waste of money and time" and would worsen the issue.

Ms Farrell called the regional shortage a "crisis" and said there was an adequate number of student doctors but the problem was they were not being resourced to regional areas.

"We have so many medical students graduating from universities across Australia, by 2030 almost 1000 junior doctors will miss out on vocational training because we will have that many," she said.

"We do not have a problem with getting people to study in rural areas, in fact it's going great. The problem is that eventually they have to leave for specialist training when they graduate.

 

Doctor pipeline
Doctor pipeline AMSA

"It's not about building more schools so they will come but training the students we currently have so they can become rural specialists.

"At the moment we are fixing the wrong problems. If we already have clinical schools out west, creating any more will be a waste of money. It's not the way the medical pipeline works."

Struggling to attract doctors to regional areas is just one of the challenges faced by Gladstone medical centres, who worry about operating costs.

As a result of rising costs, many medical centres stopped their bulk billing services.

Ms Farrell said there needed to be more incentives including rural placements and internships to attract city medical graduates to regional areas.

"If you start a new medical school up you're looking at about 15 years to get a single doctor out," she said.

 

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"There are a number of medical students from regional towns but the issue is once you finish at that point of your training you are sent to the big city to do specialist training and 99 per cent of the time that specialist training is in cities like Sydney or Melbourne."

CQUni deputy vice-chancellor Professor Fiona Coulson disagreed with AMSA's claim and said CQUni's proposal differed from other medical schools. She said the strategy was focused on creating a "home-grown workforce".

"CQUniversity is working closely with Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service and Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service to develop a truly innovative model of medical education based within the regions to secure the long-term retention of a home-grown workforce," she said.

"This is not just a focus on entry into medical school, a strong rural and regional medical curriculum, or end-to-end training within the region, but partnering with the hospital and health services to match graduates with internships, residencies and further specialisation pathways within the regions.

"An important aspect of the partnership is attraction of senior clinicians to Central Queensland and Wide Bay through the availability of training posts, thereby enhancing services available in these regions."

Ms Farrell said it wasn't a case of medical students refusing to go rural but a lack of opportunity.

"There is a huge passion for rural health in the medical industry and all of the medical bodies are working to find suggestions to fix the gap.

 

health, waiting room
Photo Bev Lacey / The Chronicle
health, waiting room Photo Bev Lacey / The Chronicle Bev Lacey

"The internships show students do want to work regionally but we just need to create the pathway the entire way down the degree so they can stay there."

"It's not an easy solve, we must collaborate with colleges, state and federal governments. We need a national strategy so we can spend our money wisely instead of easy short-sighted solutions, like building more schools."

BUDGET 2018

  • The government has put aside $95 million in the budget to boost country-based medical training
  • The new medical school forms part of the Government's Stronger Rural Health Strategy, with additional funding of $83.3 million over five years, as well as incentives for GPs to employ allied health professionals and for doctors to practice in regional areas.