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Into the great unknown

Dr Danielle McMullen

As 2015 rolls rapidly on, current and future GP registrars grow ever more nervous about the uncertainties in GP training from 2016.

We’ve all heard about the GP co-payment, frozen Medicare rebates and planned changes to level B consultations.

But there is another, at least equally important, issue lurking quietly in the corner. In its 2014 Budget, the Commonwealth announced radical changes to GP training across Australia. General Practice Education and Training, which had coordinated and overseen the GP training provided by regional training providers (RTPs) since 2001, closed its doors last December and its functions were transferred to the Department of Health. In December this year, the RTPs will also be wound up, and their replacements are yet to be announced.

The boundaries for the new training organisations have recently been released. But, for current registrars in particular, these raise more questions than are answered given we still don’t know who will form these new organisations and what the transition process will look like.

The tender process for new training organisations has not yet begun, much less been completed. As the days and weeks and months tick by we grow ever more nervous as to when these doctors will have any certainty about their training location and governance.

In addition to the significant changes to vocational training, the 2014 Budget also scrapped the Prevocational General Practice Placements Program, which was the only avenue for prevocational doctors in their intern or PGY2 year to experience the general practice environment. This gaping hole in the general practice workforce pipeline will result in fewer interested GP trainees, and throw general practice back to being an option of last resort.

Excellent GP clinical supervisors will forever form the cornerstone of quality general practice training. But they need to be supported by high quality training organisations. And registrars deserve a well-organised, well-supported training environment.

Change is coming – that is for certain. And time is running short but it’s not out yet. We need urgent clarity and real consultation to plan and shape the future of general practice training in Australia.

In the short term, registrars need certainty around the transition to new training organisations. In the longer term, we need to ensure these organisations continue to provide the high quality, flexible general practice training we’ve become accustomed to.

General practice is an incredible career offering variety, flexibility and fantastic medicine. We need to sing its praises, protect its future, and safeguard its quality. The time for that is now!