A $17 million investment from the Liberal and Nationals’ Government will transform the way country-raised medical students are trained and retained to boost the Riverina’s health system.

The funding injection into the University of New South Wales Sydney (UNSW) will see a new Rural Medical School Program developed in Wagga Wagga, as part of a $74 million Australian Government investment in the Murray-Darling Medical Schools Network.

A purpose-built Biomedical Sciences Centre will be constructed in Wagga, to enable the teaching of Biomedical Sciences and clinical skills.

Digital links will also be established between the new building, the Wagga Wagga Base Hospital, other rural clinical school campuses and the UNSW’s Kensington campus.

Announcing the funding in Wagga Wagga today, with Minister for Regional Services and Decentralisation Senator Bridget McKenzie, Deputy Prime Minister and Riverina MP Michael McCormack said the Murray-Darling Medical Schools Network represented a great outcome where the goal is to ensure the delivery of health services to regional Australians isn’t disadvantaged due to post code or geographic location.

Mr McCormack said he expected work to begin on the project in Wagga as soon as possible in 2019 and the new medical school will take in its first students in 2021.

He said he was a firm believer and supporter in the Network’s prime goal of attracting and retaining doctors in the bush, to generate a more sustainable and locally-focused health system.

Once all medical schools are operating, about 140 students will begin their medical studies across the Murray-Darling region each year, he said.

“The current model of medical training, which predominantly happens in the cities, will be replaced by a more sustainable system where the majority of training will be in the regions with rotations to metropolitan areas for specialist experience kept to a minimum,” Mr McCormack said.

“The Liberal and Nationals’ Government is delivering better access to medical practitioners for people living in our rural areas, through our $74 million investment the Murray-Darling Medical Schools Network.

“This program will allow students in Wagga and across the Riverina to train within their local area.”

Mr McCormack said following his election to Federal Parliament in 2010, he’d worked with the Rural Medical School Implementation Committee, chaired by Dr Nick Stephenson, to achieve this result.

“This group of local doctors, community leaders and specialists have helped to devise this solution for the Riverina region and I’m proud to see it become a reality,” he said.

“Hundreds of regional communities face similar challenges across Australia but they’ll benefit long into the future because of the Murray-Darling Medical Schools Network.

“I can only imagine how many lives it will save or improve the quality of, due to the provision of better, locally trained and focused health services.”

Minister McKenzie said the Government’s investment will provide $67 million to five leading universities with campuses in the Murray-Darling region of New South Wales and Victoria.

The funding will support medical students to begin studying from 2021 while La Trobe University will receive $7 million to deliver a new biomedical science degree to start in 2019 which will provide a pathway for 15 students every year to go onto study medicine.

Funding will be allocated to:

•         UNSW (Wagga Wagga);

•         The University of Sydney (Dubbo);

•         Charles Sturt University in partnership with Western Sydney University (Orange);

•         Monash University (Bendigo, Mildura); and

•         The University of Melbourne (Shepparton) with a pathway for undergraduate students from La Trobe University (Bendigo, Wodonga).

Minister McKenzie said medical students and regional communities will benefit from the innovative Murray-Darling Medical Schools Network, well into the future.

“When the students have completed their medical studies and are fully qualified, many will choose to look for work in the Riverina and wider Murray-Darling region which will give a huge boost to the rural medical workforce in those areas,” Minister McKenzie said.

“The Network will maximise opportunities for school leavers and graduate-entry students living in the country and attract those who want to become a doctor in rural and regional areas.

“For a town like Holbrook, which in recent weeks lost its only fully-accredited doctor, the positive outcome is that a student from the district can pursue a medical career while living at home and then practice in Holbrook already knowing the community and its needs.”

The Murray-Darling Medical Schools Network is part of the Government’s $550 million 2018-19 Budget investment in the Stronger Rural Health Strategy to improve access to health services for people living in regional, rural and remote areas of Australia.

Over the next 10 years, the Stronger Rural Health Strategy will deliver around 3,000 additional specialist GPs for rural areas, more than 3,000 additional nurses in rural general practices and hundreds of additional allied health professionals.

Hannah Maguire