AMA President, Dr Rosanna Capolingua, warned today that Australia risked squandering the benefits of the increased numbers of medical students now in the system unless governments put in place greater training resources and infrastructure to cope with future demand.
Dr Capolingua said quality patient care comes from quality medical training and this training is determined by the degree to which governments seize the initiative and fund more training places.
Advertisement"We are finally getting enough trainee doctors into the system but this is only the first part of the equation," Dr Capolingua said.
"The job won't be finished unless we have the full quota of training places created to see these students right through to graduation as fully fledged doctors.
"If we don't act now, there will be a training bottleneck as early as next year and patients will miss out on the care they need."
Dr Capolingua pointed to the situation in the UK as an example of what could happen here without strategic planning.
The UK has lifted medical school intakes by around 70 per cent since 1997. At the end of recruitment in 2007, over 1,300 applicants from UK medical schools had not secured a training place in 2007.
In the 2007 specialty recruitment, there were nearly 28,000 applicants for around 15,500 training places in England.
In Australia, the projected number of domestic medical school graduates will hit 2945 per year in 2012 compared to 1586 in 2007, an increase of more than 85 per cent.
Dr Capolingua said the UK experience has important medical workforce lessons for all Australian governments.
"We have an even more ambitious expansion of medical school places than the UK, so our planning has to be much better if the community is to see the benefit of more doctors," Dr Capolingua said.
"Without sufficient clinical training infrastructure and resources, including the appropriate number of teaching doctors, our future medical students will be driving taxis instead of working as doctors because they won't be able to complete their medical training.
"It is likely that clinical placements for medical students in hospitals and general practice will reach capacity in 2009 without the investment of extra resources.
"The planning and the investment must start now."
The AMA suggests a number of solutions to this problem, including:
- Specific conditions in the next round of Australian Health Care Agreements requiring States and Territories to satisfy training benchmarks - targeted numbers of accredited training positions, and commitments to support training in expanded clinical settings and general practice,
- More funding to support increased clinical placements in general practice for medical students,
- Expansion of the number of pre-vocational GP training places and the removal of current geographic boundaries,
- Increased funding support for specialist training in expanded settings, including in the private sector, and
- Additional vocational GP training places.
The Forum urges medical schools, medical colleges, governments and other stakeholders to focus their attention and resources on ensuring that there are sufficient high quality training positions available for students and graduates.
Dr Capolingua said the AMA hopes that the pending medical training crisis is high on the agenda for the Medical Training Review Panel when it meets tomorrow in Melbourne.