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Monday, 2 December 2013
Page: 1151

Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (11:48): I wish to make a few comments in relation to this motion on rural clinical schools. When I saw the motion, I thought it was a great opportunity to highlight some of the opportunities that we have in Bendigo in relation to this issue. Access to health services in rural areas—as you know, Mr Deputy Speaker—is always a challenge. Whether it be health services or medical shortages, they are amongst the top issues facing our rural and regional communities.

We need to acknowledge the historic difficulties for Australians in rural and regional areas in accessing adequate health care, compared to our city counterparts. An example of this is clearly demonstrated when we look at our GP levels: 200 doctors per 100,000 people in regional Australia compared to 370 doctors in major cities. In other words, there is almost half the number of GPs in regional areas for a larger geographical area.

I only have to take a quick drive out of Bendigo to hit a small township where these issues are occurring in my electorate. So the question, of course, is: how do we fix this? I note the comments on the data from public universities that show higher rates of RCS graduates working or intending to work in rural areas. This is encouraging, but I believe that we can do better than 'intending to work' by looking at the medical places that we have and at new initiatives.

I take on board the comments that we do not need more medical students, but perhaps it is where we have our medical students in training that we need to address. Many in this chamber would know that La Trobe Bendigo is part of the Murray-Darling Medical School, which is an innovative new model of medical education in rural Australia. It is a joint initiative between La Trobe University and Charles Sturt University, and basically takes in the area in its name: the Murray-Darling. It is a new medical school and offers medical training in a regional campus from year 1 to year 5, which currently does not exist in Victoria. Under the model, it is basically 'grow your own', as we have just discussed here today. It is about taking regional students and training them in a regional setting in the hope and with the aim that these students will have careers in their regional towns and communities.

La Trobe Bendigo is already having this success. Under Labor, $40 million was spent on building the Rural School of Health. As another speaker referred to, we cannot talk about medicine and clinical placement for GPs alone; we need to consider the whole health profession. La Trobe is already training nurses, psychologists, dentists—in fact, every area of allied health—but the one area it does not have is medicine. Therefore, it is the missing jewel in the crown.

How successful have they been? La Trobe Bendigo is seeing more than 80 per cent of their health graduates go on to work in rural employment. So the model works. In the model to recruit in the regions, train in the regions, in every aspect of their training, and stay in the regions, so it is already working. This is by having the School of Rural Health. We have the facilities ready to train these extra doctors.

This is an astounding statistic, because we know, when we compare it to domestic students graduating from medical programs, fewer than 10 per cent are actually ending up in our regional communities. Some stay and some go. The ones that come from Monash to Bendigo describe their trip to Bendigo as being like a rural exchange. The word 'exchange' suggests that they are not there for long haul, and, whilst some may stay, many return to the city for their final year or for further clinical placement.

I agree with the comments in the media and the community that medical graduates cannot fix the rural workforce shortages if there are no jobs to go to. I agree with the statement that we need to expand our rural training capacity so that new doctors are not forced to return to the cities for their internships or specialty training. This is where Bendigo offers a unique opportunity with the building of its new hospital. This hospital does provide the opportunity for a larger workforce. It is doubling the number of beds that it has and therefore the number of patients that it will receive and therefore the workforce. (Time expired)