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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4920

Mr LYONS (Bass) (17:13): I rise to speak on the report compiled by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing into registration and support processes for overseas-trained doctors, titled Lost in the Labyrinth. I thank the committee secretariat; the chair of the committee, Steve Georganas; my fellow committee members; and all those who made submissions and attended hearings. I thank them for attending the hearing in Launceston. It was the first time the health and ageing committee has been to Launceston. It was an important inquiry and I hope to see improvements in the processes in the future. As I have said in the House many times before, Australia has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. It delivers consistently high-quality care and we have a qualified, trained and skilled workforce—which is a key component to success in the healthcare system—including an adequate number of medical practitioners. Australia has long been reliant on international medical graduates to address medical practitioner workforce shortages, particularly in regional and rural Australia and remote communities, where they make up 40 per cent of the medical workforce.

In view of the continued reliance on IMGs, the challenge is to establish a system which enables suitably qualified and experienced medical practitioners to work in Australia while also protecting the health and wellbeing of the Australian public. It is important that IMGs undergo thorough screening processes to ensure that they meet the professional standards needed to practice medicine in Australia. We also need to ensure that the process is streamlined and transparent. Over the course of the inquiry the committee received 184 submissions from organisations, government authorities and individuals. We heard of the difficulties faced by individuals trying to go through the processes required to practise in Australia, outlining their personal experiences regarding accreditation and/or registration processes. All medical practitioners, regardless of where they have qualified, must meet certain requirements before they are permitted to practise in Australia, as noted in the submission from the Australian government Department of Health and Ageing. These requirements are designed to ensure minimum standards of quality and safety and, in some cases, will result in practitioners operating under a range of conditions, including under supervision and restrictions on area and/or scope of practice.

Although there is clearly a need for a robust system of accreditation and registration with sufficient checks to ensure public safety, some have argued that the regulatory frameworks to be navigated by IMGs are overly complex and their administration is flawed. There have been inquiries held regarding this subject previously, and there is vast room for improvement and transparency in this area. One submission the committee received labelled the system as resembling spaghetti. We heard from many individual stakeholders who consider their own processes to be straightforward but discovered that once all of these processes and steps were combined the system was far more complex. The challenge is for the various committees to appreciate that the individual steps are logical but together they are spaghetti.

As highlighted in section 1 of the report, for IMGs seeking to practise medicine in Australia, dealing with accreditation and registration is part of a wide process. Many IMGs, particularly those applying from overseas, often need to engage with the Australian government Department of Immigration and Citizenship, the Australian government Department of Health and Ageing, state and territory governments, recruitment agencies and potential employers, and the list goes on. This is a long and complex process.

The MBA's English language skills registration standard was highlighted by many who gave evidence before the committee and caused difficulty for some IMGs seeking registration. The committee recommends that the Medical Board of Australia review whether the current English language skills registration standard is appropriate for international graduates.

Our other key recommendations include establishing a one-stop shop to assist IMGs in navigating the accreditation and registration process; a review of the 10-year moratorium requiring IMGs to work in a district of workforce shortage for up to 10 years to be eligible for a Medicare provider number; an increase in the validity period for English language test results from two years to four years when applying for certain forms of medical registration; and the establishment of a central document repository for IMG paperwork, to reduce the duplication and administration inefficiencies.

The practice of taking IMGs, medical graduates from overseas, has been a wonderful success for Australia. I think the answer to the overseas trained doctors issue is quite complex, but we in Australia cannot do without those overseas graduates. There have been some fantastic overseas graduates and some great contributors to the Australian medical system. I know firsthand about the great contributions to Australia that internationally trained doctors have made in my time as business manager at Launceston General Hospital in just about all of the specialties. I do, however, like the committee, believe that the development of self-sufficiency in producing Australian-trained medical personnel should be the target for Australia. I commend this report to the House.