Quality GP training put at risk
The Federal Government has put the nation’s ability to sustain a highly-trained GP workforce in jeopardy through its Budget cuts and changes, the AMA has warned.
AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler said the Government’s decision to abolish General Practice Education and Training (GPET) and absorb its functions within the Health Department had, along with the shutdown of the Prevocational General Practice Placements Program (PGPPP) and the decision to abolish regional training providers (RTPs) and put their functions out to tender, raised serious concerns about the future of GP training.
A/Professor Owler used a speech to the National Press Club during Family Doctor Week to highlight medical profession fears about the long-term ramifications of the Budget measures.
“The loss of GPET into the Department of Health…is not simply a cost-saving measure,” he warned. “It represents the loss of professional oversight in the coordination of GP training.”
The AMA President added that the move to axe RTPs and put their work out to tender risked fragmenting GP training while dumping the PGPPP robbed aspiring family doctors of a valuable apprenticeship opportunity.
“These changes are major setbacks for general practice training,” A/Professor Owler said.
“The Budget reforms will dismantle the existing GP training infrastructure that has taken many years to put in place.
“Instead, the Government appears to be resting all its faith in the marketplace to provide a training solution – this is a recipe for chaos.”
The impact of the Budget cuts was discussed at a high-level GP Registrar Forum hosted by the AMA late last month.
The Forum, attended by A/Professor Owler, AMA Council of Doctors in Training Chair Dr James Churchill, AMA Council of General Practice Chair Dr Brian Morton, Chair of General Practice Registrars Australia Dr David Chessor and a number of other GP registrar leaders, expressed alarm at the Government’s changes.
The AMA President said abolishing GPET would mean the medical profession no longer had control and leadership of GP training, and there was no confidence that the Health Department had the expertise to provide a suitable replacement – particularly in the very short time set by the Government. GPET is due to shut down at the end of the year.
The Forum called for GP Colleges to have an expanded role in GP training, and for the abolition of RTPs to be deferred until there was proper consultation with the profession about the future structure and role of their replacement.
A/Professor Owler said the Budget changes to GP training were particularly regrettable given that the demands on GPs, who were central to the operation of the health system, were becoming ever more acute.
Not only were patients presenting with ever-more complex and chronic conditions to diagnose, treat and manage, but GPs had to keep abreast of repaid developments in medical knowledge and treatments.
“The rate of growth in medical knowledge has become exponential,” A/Professor Owler said. “New treatments, new medications, and even new diagnoses come seemingly every day.
“I do not envy the task of the GP in being across the range of medical conditions, medications, and treatments that a GP, or family doctor, must be familiar with.
“It is why it is so important that we have a highly-trained general practice workforce.”
The AMA President said the importance of high quality medical education and training was often overlooked, but it was fundamental to the nation’s high standards of health.
Australians have among the longest average life expectancy in the world. A boy born in 2012 can expect to live for almost 80 years, and a girl, more than 84 years.
This has been underpinned by sustained declines in death rates caused by major killers such as heart disease, cancer and infections.
“The standard of medicine practised in this country is among the best in the world, whether it be in our general practices or in our hospitals,” A/Professor Owler said.
“It is because we have a highly trained medical workforce. We have an established apprenticeship model, with our Colleges maintaining education and training standards.
“That is why it is so important that we continue to invest in training our GPs and our other specialists of the future.”
In its Budget, the Federal Government created 300 extra first year GP training places from next year, but A/Professor Owler said the welcome investment was undermined by the other measures that hurt GP training.