Opinion: Canberra should halt diagnosis, fix illness

BUILD it, and they will come.

Even better, many will stay.

That remains the philosophy behind the Murray Darling Medical School’s (MDMS) ongoing push to establish a regional medical school but the message continues to fall on deaf ears at the top levels of government.

MDMS is a joint initiative of Charles Sturt University and La Trobe University to address doctor and skills shortages in the bush by supplying a ready-made workforce.

Repeated studies show that students who learn in regional centres are more likely to work in regional centres and the latest figures from a Medical Deans of Australia and New Zealand report illustrates that truth.

The report found that fewer than one-in-five final year medical students intends to practise in the bush after graduating.

But the situation is even worse than that.

Past experience shows that even among that small minority that indicated an intention to work in the bush, very many will never do so.

In fact, according to MDMS executive director Mark Burdack, less than 10 per cent of medical graduates will work outside of the major centres.

That’s clearly not sustainable for growing cities such as Dubbo and the situation is even worse in smaller towns in the Orana region and across NSW which can go years without a doctor.

And that’s why it’s so frustrating for supporters of the medical school that their submissions for federal support are so regularly knocked back.

The solution is clear but there appears to be a lack of political will to make it happen. It was overlooked in this year’s federal budget despite wide and public support for the school by some federal MPs from the regions, medical and doctors’ groups, communities and others.

Federal Member for Parkes Mark Coulton is a supporter. As are Federal Minister for Regional Development Fiona Nash and other Nationals. The new federal MP for Calare Andrew Gee has promised to fight for it.

The argument for the school is strongly supported by statistics and studies. The universities can show how other health services students who qualify in regional universities return to rural areas in big numbers and stay there. Health experts say it is needed. MPs from the regions back it.

The government doesn’t need to study the matter for as long as it takes to get a medical degree. It just needs to fund and build it.