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Tuesday, 4 April 2000
Page: 15205

Mr Martin Ferguson asked the Minister for Health and Aged Care, upon notice, on 23 November 1999:

(1 )Which States and Territories have agreed to provide alternatives to the Australian Medical Council examination process for overseas trained doctors to work in country areas.

(2) What action has been taken to achieve a uniform registration process across all States for overseas trained doctors.

Dr Wooldridge (Minister for Health and Aged Care) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) The Commonwealth recently offered to help states and territories streamline processes for recruiting overseas doctors to work in rural areas. All states and the Northern Territory have expressed interest in developing initiatives to address the rural medical workforce shortages on a more permanent basis.

At the Australian Health Ministers' Conference in August 1999, a national framework was agreed to facilitate the recruitment of overseas trained doctors to work in nural areas. The framework allows overseas doctors with general practice qualifications, who seek or possess permanent residency, to be assessed by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) as an alternative to the current Australian Medical Council (AMC) examinations. Doctors going through this process will be conditionally registered to work in rural areas for a period of five years.

The Commonwealth is currently working with states and the Northern Territory around details relating to immigration and Medicare access.

Recent changes in medical registration arrangements across all States and Territories have impacted on the ability of overseas trained doctors to practise without AMC certification in two ways:

• overseas trained doctors who hold the Fellowship of the RACGP can obtain medical registration without the requirement to also pass the AMC. This extends the arrangement provided to specialists to general practitioners, thus bringing into line recognition procedures for the two groups of doctors;

• medical boards have removed the time restriction on area of need positions, meaning that overseas trained doctors can work in area of need positions longer term without a requirement to undertake the AMC examinations. It is, of course, in the best interests of overseas trained doctors to sit the AMC examinations as this is the only route to general (unrestricted) registration.

Currently the Commonwealth is working with the States and the Northern Territory to provide alternatives to the AMC examination process for overseas trained doctors to work in areas of workforce shortage.

(2) (a) The Australian Medical Council has a standing uniformity committee which currently monitors medical registration processes across all States and Territories to ensure uniform registration processes are in place.

(b) These measures are policy based and supplement the current legislative mechanism that allows all registered medical practitioners uniform entitlement to medical registration (Mutual Recognition Act 1992)

(c) The Commonwealth facilitated a meeting on 2 1 Februaxy 2000, which was attended by representatives of all States and Territories, to discuss medical registration issues, including mutual recognition issues, arising from recent overseas trained doctor recruitment strategies across the States and Territories. At the meeting, the States and Territories acknowledged the importance of consistent registration standards in new initiatives

(d) In its 1999 Annual Report, the Australian Medical Workforce Advisory Committee (AMWAC) noted that general implementation of its recommendations has been good, with 66% of suggesting training program adjustments already in place. However the Government is concerned that a number of disciplines remain slow in implementing increases in training numbers, notably the areas of radiation oncology, orthopaedic surgery and ear, nose and throat surgery.

The Commonwealth's support for these new State and Northern Territory recruitment initiatives is therefore contingent upon the States' agreement to meet this collective responsibility to promote an adequate supply and appropriate distribution of the medical workforce, to better meet the health needs of our community. In view of this joint commitment, I have written to urge each State and the Northern Territory to work with the medical colleges in their respective jurisdictions to ensure that the AMWAC recommendations are implemented in a timely manner.