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Reducing the intake of GPs trained overseas

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The biggest single saving of the Federal Budget will be achieved by axing 200 places from Australia’s intake of overseas-trained GPs.

The total number to be granted visas will now be 2,100. The move, beginning in January, is expected to save more than $400 million over the forward estimates and reduce the demand on Medicare and PBS-listed medicines.

The initiative is also designed to address what the Government describes as an over-supply of medical graduates in urban areas.

The Government insists the savings will be redirected to fund health policy priorities.

Improved targeting of visas, it says, will see overseas-trained GPs directed to areas where there are doctor shortages, such as regional and rural Australia.

“By better managing the total number of doctors entering the system and directing them to areas of need has made available $415.5 million over four years,” Budget papers say.

AMA President Dr Michael Gannon said the full intent of the Government’s plain needed further explaining.

“We really appreciate the contribution made by international medical graduates in the past, and in the present, and in the future to rural Australia,” he told ABC Radio.

“But the ultimate aspiration has to be self-sufficiency in medical graduates, and we applaud the Government in at least starting to introduce some evidence-based measures… that are likely to increase the number of doctors who settle in rural areas, in the regions.

“If you take people who went to high school in the regions, if you train them in the country, they are far more likely to make their careers there. We think they have got it right in this workforce package.

“So basically we’ve got a Health Budget which points to $4.8 billion extra investment, and we’ve got a saving in the Immigration Home Affairs portfolio.

“So, we’re still trying to work that one out. Obviously the idea is that those services are provided under the Medicare system by Australian-trained doctors.

“The reality is that the vast majority of doctors given visas under district of workforce shortage provisions end up working in our major cities; they end up in the middle of Sydney, the middle of Melbourne, the middle of Perth.

“We are interested in measures that are likely to deliver doctors to the bush in a sustained manner. We simply can’t have the situation where people are recruited to jobs in the country or often in the outer suburbs of our metropolitan areas, and find their way into private hospital jobs in the middle of our cities. That’s not a workforce strategy.”