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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4932

Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (18:04): I rise tonight to support the report by the Standing Committee on Health and Ageing inquiring into registration processes and support for overseas trained doctors. I do so because it is of particular relevance to my electorate of Wannon. As a matter of fact, one of the best submissions which was presented to this inquiry came from the Western District Health Services. It goes to the nub of this issue, and that is that more and more in regional and rural areas we are relying on overseas trained specialists and GPs to support the provision of medical and surgical services.

There are two ways to address this problem and, hopefully, we can address the first by making sure that we get our Australian doctors trained more and more in regional and rural areas. There is no question that if we want to make sure that we have doctors for regional and rural areas, the best way we can do that is by training them out in regional and rural areas.

Deakin University have started that process in my electorate at their campus in Warrnambool, and they are doing an excellent job. We need to see more of that occurring across the country, because that should be the primary way we address this issue. I hope that it will be, and I hope that we will see a coalition policy which goes to the heart of this issue and continues what was started under the Howard government in this regard.

Mr Griffin: Any coalition policy would be good!

Mr TEHAN: Absolutely—all coalition policies are good and in particular this one will be a beauty. I have full confidence that Peter Dutton will deliver—

Mr Griffin: Name one of them!

Mr TEHAN: I have just named it, the one that started the medical school in Warrnambool. It means that we will start to see Australian doctors having trained in regional and rural areas wanting to provide the services out in those communities. That is what we want to see.

In the meantime, we have to ensure that those services can continue, and we are becoming more and more reliant on overseas trained specialists and GPs to do this work. What does that mean? It means that those overseas trained doctors and specialists have to have a proper pathway into Australia. We need a pathway which can be relied on, a pathway which is consistent, which has consistent time frames and which requires consistent regulation with regard to the information that is provided so that we can ensure that our communities—and it is often the smaller communities—have that critical mass of GPs and specialists to enable the health services to continue.

I referred to the excellent submission by the Western District Health Services to this inquiry, and I want to quote from their submission. In the report they also quoted from the Western District Health Services and I think it is important that we once again state on the record what the problem is. The submission says:

The recruitment of overseas trained Specialists in particular is extremely complex and complicated and requires Western District Health Service to engage the services of recruitment agencies which is a costly exercise in itself.

Despite the use of experienced and well credentialed recruitment agencies our experience in the recruitment of overseas Specialists is one of extreme frustration, extreme delays (in one instance nearly 2 years) which often results in the potential Specialist giving up on pursuing an offer of employment. Unfortunately this often appears as a deliberate strategy by the respective College.

This is a very serious point. What is occurring here is that applications by overseas doctors and specialists to get in and work in areas where these services cannot get local doctors or specialists to do the work seem to have been obstructed or had delaying tactics used so that these professionals end up going to other countries to do this vital work. We have to ensure that this issue is taken seriously because once you lose the critical mass of the specialists and the GPs you can often see services unwind to such an extent that they can no longer provide those important services to these rural and regional communities. The submission goes on:

Western District Health Service fully appreciates and supports a robust process to ensure that Specialists are appropriately skilled to provide a high quality service that we are accustomed to in Australia.

They understand that we have to meet high standards. That is not at issue here. We want the high standards met. We want to know that consumers of health services in regional and rural areas understand that the people looking after them have the required skills and the required studies to do so. That is not at issue here. What is at issue is making sure that, when overseas specialists and GPs apply, the pathway is one where the applications can be dealt with appropriately and within appropriate time constraints. The submission goes on:

It is often not understood by the Australian Medical Council and the respective Colleges that in regional and rural areas one Specialist vacancy can make all the difference in terms of providing a sustainable on call roster system for the provision of emergency medical and surgical services. Delays of 12 months and more in the recruitment process are just not acceptable. It is not only costly, but also places regional and rural communities at great risk in terms of providing medical and surgical services in an emergency situation.

I think that goes to the crux of the matter. It is very interesting that that was picked up in this report and it is important that it has been. People understand that the complexity and the time delays make it more and more difficult to get these much needed GPs and specialists into Australia to provide these services. The Western District Health Service submission concludes by saying:

Therefore our system for processing OTD's—

overseas trained doctors—

need a major overhaul and restructure to:

1. Provide better coordination and integration of the processes and procedures.

2. Streamline and simplify the entire process.

3. Ensure that an OTD who is compliant is able to be dealt with within a 6-9 months period.

4. Ensure there is a clear and transparent process.

5. Provide financial support to health organisations who require OTD's to ensure their communities have access to an appropriate and safe range of services.

6. Establish a single assessment/registration process and simplified procedure whilst maintaining a robust process to ensure safety and quality.

7. Establish a pathway between the OTD assessment and registration process and immigration.

As I have mentioned, I am glad to see that this report has picked that up. I am also glad that the shadow minister for health and ageing, the Hon. Peter Dutton, has recognised this as well. The submission of the Western District Health Service was of such merit that I made sure that I provided a copy to the shadow minister.

In his letter back to me he said: 'As mentioned in my previous correspondence addressing the maldistribution of the health and medical workforce is a policy priority for the coalition. In particular, the coalition remains committed to improving access in rural and regional areas to the increasing number of Australian medical graduates as a result of the increase in number of medical schools under the previous coalition government,' which is a point I made at the start. 'As part of our policy review process the coalition will examine issues relating to the registration and recruitment of overseas trained doctors including the recent findings of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing.' I congratulate the shadow minister for acknowledging these two areas of concern and in committing the coalition to make sure that under a coalition government—and I think the majority of Australians are now hoping that that is what will occur at the next election—we will be able to implement these two key policy priorities.