Dr Shepherd Demands A New Deal For Young Doctors – 23 May 1999

Bruce Shepherd chairman of the Australian Doctors Fund.

Dr Shepherd said that without urgent action Australia would fail to attract the best and brightest students into the profession to care for Australian patients.

“Young doctors have had their future taken way from them,” said Dr Shepherd. “In my day we were underpaid but had a great future to look forward to.

“These doctors have no certainty about their future.

“They don’t even know if they are going to get on a training scheme,” said Dr Shepherd.

“Once they are trained they get paid a pittance as GPs. As specialists they face a future of continued interference from Government and from health insurance companies.”

If they stay in public hospitals the daily demand in hospitals is so great that they are unable to study or properly train as specialists, he said.

“All young doctors want to serve and look after their patients – but the demands of the public hospitals are now so great that they cannot properly train or study in the tradition which has made Australian doctors among the finest in the world.”

Dr Shepherd described the provider number legislation, introduced by Federal Health minister Dr Wooldridge in 1996 as “malicious and insidious”.

Under the legislation doctors cannot get a provider number – which allows their patients to claim Medicare rebates – unless they are on an approved training scheme.

Doctors who want to do further postgraduate study and still pay the rent no longer have the option of doing locums. Doctors who want to try out general practice before committing cannot do so.

The number of GP training places are restricted to 400.

“Dr Wooldridge has always claimed the scheme was about quality, about ensuring that untrained doctors are not let loose on the public,” said Dr Shepherd.

“Nobody in the profession, let alone the leaders of the profession would allow that to happen.

“But this scheme is about rationing healthcare and it has led to the demoralisation of some of our brightest young people.”

He said he would make it a priority of the AMA, if successful in his challenge as leader, to get the Government to look again at the legislation.

“This insidious legislation has taken away doctors flexibility at the very beginning of their careers.

“They cannot be the very thing they have spent six or more years training to be – doctors – unless they are on a training scheme. And once on a training scheme the find the hours and number of patients they can see are greatly restricted.”

Last year 700 doctors had applied to the GP trainingschemes.

“What happened to the 300 who did not get a place?” asked Dr Shepherd.

“To train the brightest and the best and then dump them – that’s a shame for Australia’s patients, a shame for Australia’s doctors.”