Budget brings doctors to the bush

Budget 2018-19 delivers on Murray Darling Medical School


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Coalition's bold play to solve rural and regional doctor shortages.

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Doctors will now be able to complete their full training program, from start to finish at  regional university campuses in NSW and Victoria for the first time, representing a key win for the Nationals over the health fraternity.

The Federal Budget delivers a $95 million investment in the Murray Darling Medical School, which will see Commonwealth-supported placements for medical students move into a range of regional university campuses.

The announcement today will put noses out of joint at sandstone universities in Sydney and Melbourne.

The debate hinged on student placements. 

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Government funds medical schools to train doctors and the Budget confirmed there would be no increase in Commonwealth Supported placements - meaning the existing schools would have their allocation, and funding, reduced.

Last year Charles Sturt University said the Murray Darling Medical School could take 180 into the bush.

The Murray Darling Medical School is modelled on the successful program at Townsville's James Cook University, which has achieved a retention rate of 50 per cent of students staying to work in regional communities.

Metropolitan schools achieve a regional retention rate of about 12 per cent.

The influential Australian Medical Association had argued against a new medical school for complete doctor training programs.

The AMA wanted an increase to funding for regional medical placements among existing medical schools run out of the capital cities, but offering a rotation in regional campuses.

General Practicioner and specialist shortages are a pressing issue for many regional communities. 

In 2015, for every 100,000 people there were 442 doctors in major cities, but only 298 doctors in inner regional areas and just 279 in outer regions.

The new medical school network will be spread across bush campuses of University of NSW, Sydney University, Charles Sturt and Western Sydney University, Monash, Melbourne/La Trobe and Curtin University with campuses in Wagga Wagga, Dubbo, Orange, Bendigo, Mildura, Bendigo, Shepparton and Wodonga.

The Murray Darling Medical School was kicked off by a joint proposal from LaTrobe and Charles Sturt Universities.

Peter Fraser, CSU’s director of government and community relations, said the university is delighted with the Treasurer’s funding announcement.

“This partnership with CSU and Western Sydney University will finally address the chronic shortage of doctors in rural and regional Australia,” Mr Fraser said.

“Local kids can study to become a doctor in, and serve the communities where they live.”

Nationals leader Michael McCormack flagged a focus on regional health in the lead up to the Budget. 

Regional Health Minister and deputy Nationals leader Bridget McKenzie said the new medical school would see more highly qualified doctors and nurses in the bush. 

“We want to provide more Australian trained doctors where they are needed most while decreasing the reliance on new overseas trained doctors in the regions,” Ms McKenzie said. 

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.

There is also a new round of $84m over four years for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

The government has committed $4 billion to fund small, rural and regional hospitals in states and territories over the four years from 2017-18.

Mental health funding has been boosted by $338m with a focus on suicide prevention and older people.

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