The Kimberley’s peak Aboriginal health body, the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services (KAMS), is seriously concerned about the Federal Government’s proposed changes to the Aboriginal Health Training policy.
Changes announced by the Federal Department of Health on 17 November 2015, which if approved will apply from 1 January 2016, will result in the dismantling of the successful Kimberley General Practice Training (KGPT) program which commenced in 2003. The program was established to help address the chronic shortage of doctors in Aboriginal health, improve access to primary medical care in the Kimberley and increase the number of doctors practicing in rural and remote areas.
Under the proposed changes, Kimberley Aboriginal health services across the region would stand to lose 15 out of 18 (84%) doctors who are due to commence training in the first half of 2016 and 10 out of 15 (67%) doctors in the second half of 2016. The biggest impact will be felt in the very remote parts of the Kimberley which are serviced by the more experienced doctors in training. Under the changes, these experienced doctors will no longer be eligible for the KGPT support.
KAMS CEO, Vicki O’Donnell says ‘the changes will place enormous risk on delivering quality medical services, not only in many remote communities but also in the largest centres, including Broome, both in the short and long term’.
The proposed policy changes completely contradict the Federal Government’s commitment to improving health workforce capability, increasing doctors in rural and remote areas and closing the gap in Aboriginal life expectancy by 2031. It also contradicts the Council of Australian Government Health Council’s recently released ‘Review of Medical Intern Training Report’ which recognises the importance of community-based placements.
Since its inception in 2003, the KGPT program has supported 104 doctors to undertake their training in the Kimberley. A review of the program in September 2015 highlighted that between 2003 – 2015, over 50% of doctors who completed their training continue to practice in the Kimberley and over 66% are now working in Aboriginal health across Australia.
The proposed changes include restricting the amount of training a doctor can undertake with an Aboriginal Medical Service to a maximum of 12 months, and discontinuing support for doctors commencing their training and those doctors in the last 12 months of their training. The result will see less doctors spending less time training in Aboriginal health and rural and remote areas, reduced mentoring and training opportunities between doctors in training and significant impacts on continuity of care to patients.
KAMS calls on the Department of Health and Commonwealth Government to bring together key stakeholders, including the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) and the Aboriginal Health Council of Western Australia (AHCWA), to discuss and resolve the concerns regarding this draft policy.