Medical trainers are concerned there are not enough practical placements for training graduates, as Western Australia faces a severe shortage of doctors within the next eight years.
Curtin University Medical School Dean Professor William Hart said supervised post graduate training is “where the bottleneck is” and WA needed to find increased numbers of training positions and supervisors to ensure young doctors get full training.
“There is a bottleneck already existing in the number of internship positions and the number of post internship training positions,” Professor Hart said.
“That mostly is because of the number of positions that are currently available in public hospitals.”
“Every doctor that graduates needs to undertake a minimum of one year and usually two years of hospital based training as interns before they can go into the specialty training programs.”
Professor Hart said the positions depended on available funding.
“The registrar positions for these trainees need to be funded by government,” he said.
“It’s a long term project that’s intimately linked up with budgetary position.”
The Health Department’s Medical Workforce Report on Thursday revealed WA faces a shortage of 1450 doctors by 2025.
WA will be short of almost 1000 general practitioners and specialist areas with critical shortages are expected to rise from two to 18.
Specialist areas facing critical shortages include paediatric surgery, psychiatry and cardio thoracic surgery.
The report warned that the lack of specialists risked “not being able to meet health service needs and compromising safety and quality of care.”
Critical shortages could mean patients were not treated, staff were more at risk of burnout and some wards and departments could become unsustainable.
Professor Hart said the shortage was foreseen for a number of years.
“We’ve known for about five or six years that there was a looming doctor shortage in Western Australia, in fact West Australia’s been under doctored for a long time,” he said.
Professor Hart said the shortage resulted in the addition of more medical schools in the state.
“The reason why Curtin Medical School was approved as a third medical school in Western Australia was because we were able to demonstrate that there was going to be a need for more medical students to graduate in order to deal with this doctor shortage,” he said.
“The biggest issue really in terms of the medical workforce in Western Australia is the distribution of doctors and also distribution within different specialty groups.”
Despite more graduates, WA’s reliance on overseas trained doctors is expected to continue as a result of the length of time it takes to train graduates.
WA Greens health spokesperson Alison Xamon said overseas doctors were needed in the short term.
“If we are looking at significant shortages, particularly in the short term of a particular type of medical expertise, we’re going to have to look at ensuring that we are enabling people to be able to come to Australia to be able to provide those sorts of services,” she said.
However, she said overseas doctors wanting to permanently live in Australia was not an issue, but believed it would be concerning if Australia was took doctors away from countries needing them.
“We don’t want to become part of the problem overseas in terms of what’s known as the brain drain,” Ms Xamon said.
“We do have I think international obligations not to take a huge degree of expertise away from other countries.”