AMA President, Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, said today that the lack of consistent national standards and processes for assessing the skills and experience of overseas trained doctors (OTDs) is diminishing confidence in the quality of medicine in Australia and diluting the effectiveness of the important contribution that OTDs make to the health system.
Dr Haikerwal said the system must be rigorous and fair to ensure the community gets expert medical care from doctors who have proven themselves to be fit for the task assigned to them.
"The system is an absolute shambles at the moment," Dr Haikerwal said.
"It is wasting important resources, especially in country areas, and it is a huge disincentive to overseas trained doctors who are keen to work in areas of health need.
"The Commonwealth has tried to achieve consensus among the States and Territories to implement nationally consistent standards and processes to assess overseas trained doctors going into general practice, but the process is falling victim to 'patch protection' with almost every State wanting their own system.
"Unless all Governments take this issue seriously and reach agreement on a single national assessment process, we will end up with a meaningless standard that is based on the lowest common denominator.
"We want to see the Commonwealth toughen up its current work on overseas trained doctor assessment, which is due to be announced later in the year.
"Our concern is that proposals to be considered by the States and Territories will be voluntary.
"This is not good enough. Ultimately the adoption of supervision guidelines, implementation of an offshore screening exam, and standardised paperwork requirements must be compulsory and binding on all States and Territories.
"Otherwise, OTDs will still face the current nightmare where some States will accept their qualifications while others won't."
The AMA is also concerned that the States and Territories have plans to fast track their own OTD assessment processes that will 'pre-recognise' some overseas qualifications. The medical profession has had no meaningful input to this concept.
Dr Haikerwal said that important issues such as ongoing support and training for OTDs, mentoring and orientation are still being ignored and the AMA is seeking urgent talks with Department of Health officials to hasten the implementation of national standards.
"The AMA believes that Medical Colleges and Medical Boards need to work closely together to get the right standards and processes in place for nationally consistent OTD assessment - and this should have government funding and resources to make it happen quickly," Dr Haikerwal said.