Former WA Health Department boss Neale Fong has hit out at the Australian Medical Association over its criticism of WA’s new medical school, rejecting claims its students will end up jobless.
The AMA is furious after Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced the Federal Government would help fund the new Curtin University campus in Midland and WA president Michael Gannon yesterday accused him and Premier Colin Barnett of being “tricky” over a “grand project that will deliver nothing”.
Dr Gannon said medical students were already struggling to get training positions and the medical school would only exacerbate the problem.
“It’s poorly thought out and if it had any merit they wouldn’t have needed to be so tricky in keeping it a secret from everyone,” Dr Gannon said.
“This was a secret deal done between Mr Barnett, Mr (Christian) Porter and Mr Abbott without any discussion with the AMA. If this is a marginal seat campaign from the Abbott Government I’d be surprised, but if it is they’ve been poorly advised.
“If you want more GPs, you provide more training positions.”
Dr Fong, who helped drive the project, said more training positions were needed in WA hospitals, but he completely disagreed with everything else the AMA was saying.
“The facts are Western Australia still imports doctors to cover its needs,” he said. “Why shouldn’t we be developing our own homegrown doctors?
“This is a very sensible, gradual approach to increasing the medical workforce – over the next 10 years. There have been five years of consultation on this.”
Dr Gannon’s comments came after AMA national president Brian Owler raised the Federal Government’s ire by calling the announcement a “calamitous captain’s call by Captain Chaos”.
Treasurer Joe Hockey said Associate Professor Owler’s comments were extreme and “certainly not fitting for someone representing a great profession”.
Curtin University vice-chancellor Deborah Terry welcomed Government approval of its direct-entry, five-year medical school, which will have 60 student places a year by 2017 and up to 100 domestic and 10 international places by 2022.
Mr Abbott, who was in Perth to announce the Government’s $20 million commitment to the school, said the AMA was right to be concerned about the number of training places, but he had sought assurance from the WA Government that enough clinical training places would be provided. He said WA was short about 1000 doctors and needed more local doctors.
Mr Barnett said the school was long overdue and would bring prestige to Perth’s eastern suburbs, which had felt a “little bit left behind”.
Associate Professor Owler stood by his claim that the Government had put forward the funding as part of efforts to boost the coalition vote in WA.
“We know that the WA Liberals have been lobbying very hard to secure this,” he said.
“They have made this decision on the basis of politics rather than good policy.”