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24 Jun 2014

The decision to axe Health Workforce Australia and absorb its functions within the Health Department must not come at the expense of the considerable momentum and expertise around health workforce planning that has been developed in the past five years, the AMA has said.

The Senate has launched an inquiry into the Federal Government’s decision, detailed in the Budget, to abolish HWA at a time when crucial work is being undertaken to improve the planning and coordination of medical training amid concerns of inadequate prevocational and vocational training places.

In a written submission to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry, AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler said that, with the Government determined to axe HWA, the focus of effort “must be on ensuring that transition process”.

The need for well-informed and coherent health workforce planning becoming glaringly obvious in the late 1990s and early 2000s when the working presumption of policymakers that the country had an over-supply of doctors was shown to be glaringly wrong.

There was a subsequent major ramp-up in medical school places, and focus has now shifted to the later years of medical training and the need for a significant increase in intern, prevocational and vocational places to give medical graduates the opportunities they need to complete their training.

In its landmark Health Workforce 2025 report, HWA projected that by the middle of next decade there was likely to be sufficient doctors to meet overall community demand, though it predicted there would be shortages in particular areas and specialties.

And the report warned a significant bottleneck in access to vocational training would develop by 2016, and there would also potentially be a shortage of Residential Medical Officer training places.

In his submission to the Senate Committee, A/Professor Owler said there was also emerging evidence of a shortage of public sector positions for new Fellows in a number of specialties, such as anaesthetics.

Following the HWA report, the National Medical Training Advisory Network was established last year to identify and address looming bottlenecks in the training pipeline.

The Network is advising on the preparation of a report that will update the HWA’s original findings and projections, and is developing a National Medical Training Plan.

A/Professor Owler said the Network had the potential to carry on much of the work that had been undertaken by HWA, but a crunch point in medical training planning was rapidly approaching.

“Its work is taking on an increasing urgency due to the shortage of vocational training posts…and the fact that the advertising of posts and applications for entry to vocational training in 2016 will occur in mid-2015,” the AMA President warned.  “This leaves only a year for substantial work to be done that can inform vocational training numbers and guide doctors’ career choices.”

He said the Committee needed to reassure itself that the Health Department had the plans and resources in place to ensure that there was no disruption or loss of momentum to the workforce planning and coordination work that HWA had undertaken.

“We are now in a position where that information, advice and capacity enhancement is being delivered by HWA, and we must not lose this momentum,” A/Professor Owler said.

Adrian Rollins 

Published: 24 Jun 2014