11 March 2009

Shortage of doctors in Australia caused a State bidding war

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Australia is still heavily dependent on overseas doctors to ease the skills shortage in the workforce. According to a health policy expert, this dependence will lead to further bidding wars between states and territories to snatch up the foreign doctors.

In an interview with ABC News, Robert Wells, director of the Menzies Centre for Health Policy, said the increasing dependence of Australia's health care on foreign doctors is building up unnecessary costs for the government that are born from competitive recruiting strategies. 

As it stands, around 15 to 16 per cent of doctors in the major cities are overseas-born, while in rural and regional Australia the percentage of foreign doctors is reaching up to 70 per cent.

Workforce planners claim that the health system needs about 1,300 more doctors and about 10,000 more nurses, which will be sourced primarily from attracting foreign health professionals to move to Australia

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) is now implementing a national recruitment scheme to override the six separate state and territory schemes, so that the bidding war for foreign health professionals can be contained.

The new scheme will use $63 million worth of funding to train overseas recruits and advertise health occupation vacancies overseas.

However, Mr Wells says the new scheme would not put a stop to competition between the states. 

"In a number of the states, actually, the health services are delivered through regional authorities.  I understand that they can do their own recruiting if they have to, so some of the larger regional authorities could actually, probably bypass the system.  Now I don't know what checks states can put into that under a new agreement but that would be difficult to manage."

He also said large country towns and the private sector would want to use its own agents to recruit doctors thinking of emigrating to Australia and would therefore avoid signing agreements with COAG.

The new scheme is due to go live in November.


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