Funding feud threatens interns' hospital placements

TIME is running out to ensure medical students trained in Australia will be given the hospital training they need to qualify as doctors, with NSW and Victoria refusing to follow other states and join a federal plan to solve the ongoing crisis.

Nearly three years after the Rudd government promised to ''end the blame game'' on health funding, the standing council on health meeting between state and federal leaders on Friday descended into a funding fight.

NSW and Victoria refused to find the relatively small amount of money for desperately needed doctor training, while the federal government took back other funding based on what the states claimed were faulty population estimates.

The states also demanded the federal government continue funding provided under national partnership agreements, due to expire from next year, which were created to ensure the states could meet ambitious emergency and other targets.

Amid a looming doctor shortage, Western Australia, Queensland and the ACT agreed to the federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek's plan to provide funding for non-government hospitals to train medical students, in return for the states providing extra funding for public places.

The medical students have completed years of training but cannot formally qualify as doctors without undertaking hospital internships. It is estimated the NSW government has already spent $35,000 on each medical student by the time they are ready for their hospital rotation.

The NSW Minister for Health, Jillian Skinner, said that after the Perth meeting she was confident a solution would be found, and she was willing to work with the federal government.

But if NSW and Victoria do not agree soon, time will run out for non-government hospitals to gain accreditation to teach them next year, according to the chief executive of Catholic Health Australia, Martin Laverty.

Mr Laverty said his organisation was first asked to help solve the medical training crisis in August, when it had committed to 70 training places in Catholic hospitals across Australia.

''We shouldn't be in a situation with this kind of five minutes to midnight solution,'' he said.

Hospitals that were not yet accredited would need about two months to become so.

The Australian Medical Students' Association estimates there is a shortage of 180 training places. Under the deal announced on Friday, 116 positions have been created.

The vice-president external of the association, Catherine Pendrey, said the failure to provide all the needed places would have a real-world effect on patients, particularly in rural and regional areas where shortages were already felt.

The medical students who will miss out on placements are international students, who have paid full fees only to be sent home without a degree.

Ms Plibersek said the government was willing to fund 100 internships across the country.

''Up to 180 medical graduates may not be able to complete their training next year because of the refusal of some state governments to find a relatively small number of additional internship positions,'' she said.

The president of the Australian Medical Association, Steve Hambleton, said the intern crisis was part of a broader training shortage that would see a shortfall of 450 first-year specialist training places in 2016.

He said it was essential a long-term plan to deal with the problem was developed.

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