New ‘regional training hubs’ are touted to bring much needed specialist training to the bush, but one critic has labelled the funding model ‘bizarre’.
The federal government recently announced the “Integrated Rural Training Pipeline for Medicine” initiative, which comes with a funding allocation of $93.8 million between 2015-16 to 2018-19.
It includes $16 m for an extra 100 non-GP specialist training positions, but the bulk of the money will go to rural clinical medical schools to develop 26 new “regional training hubs”.
The hubs are tasked with building capacity for specialist training in the regions, working with the specialist colleges, local health authorities and providers to develop training pathways for junior doctors, including identifying non-GP specialty workforce gaps.
The work will include supporting clinical training supervisors, assisting health services to obtain accreditation for new training positions, and supporting local medical practitioners to become clinical supervisors to build training capacity in rural areas, a Department of Health spokesperson said.
The rationale is to arrest the flow of rural medical school graduates out of the regional areas.
They are forced to move to cities to do specialist training, and many don’t return.
But Professor Sabe Sabesan, chair of the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia’s Regional and Rural Group, said the funding commitment did not go far enough.
“It doesn’t come with any money to create training posts, this is to employ staff and academics to push for change which I find a bit bizarre,” said Professor Sabeson.
“The funding will go to employing staff in universities who do not have any control over specialist training programs or the hospitals which provide the training posts.”
He said it appeared the policy had been devised without a good thought process.
“I’m also concerned there is no guarantee of ongoing funding – it is difficult for anyone to commit to and build sustainable systems without assurance and certainty”.
Medical workforce researcher Dr Belinda O’Sullivan (PhD), a research fellow at the school of rural health at Monash University, said the hubs will go some way to addressing the country’s maldistribution issue in which 15 % of specialists live in the regions, compared to 30 % of the population.
“In five to 10 years we will start to see the emergence of regionally-based specialists undertaking all their training in the regions.
“I think it will make a difference because the intervention is built on getting the right doctors in the right place at right time”.
AMA vice president Dr Tony Bartone welcomed the investment, but said it should be complemented by boosting the number of federally-funded Specialist Training Program (STP) places to 1400 by 2018 and 1900 by 2030.
Currently 1000 STP places are funded for 2018.
“Until we address this number we are not meeting the need head on.”