A ONCE-IN-A-GENERATION boost to health care for rural and regional Australians in the Riverina and Central West has been delivered by The Nationals’ Member for Riverina Michael McCormack, with the announcement in tonight’s Federal Budget of funding for the establishment of a rural medical school in Wagga Wagga.

The Nationals’ Leader and Deputy Prime Minister said he was extremely proud to be able to deliver a significant investment to residents in the Riverina and Central West.

The Government will invest $95.4 million to establish a Murray-Darling Medical School Network to support end-to-end training for rural students to study medicine in the regions.

In addition to the University of NSW (Wagga Wagga), the Murray-Darling Medical Schools Network includes University of Sydney (Dubbo),  Charles Sturt University/Western Sydney University (Orange), Monash University (Bendigo, Mildura); and University of Melbourne/La Trobe University (Shepparton, Bendigo, Wodonga).

Mr McCormack said the Wagga Wagga region has been well served by rural clinical schools established by the University of New South Wales (2000) and the University of Notre Dame (2011), but the regions still needed more doctors.

“Now is the time for a dedicated medical school, based in the regions, where doctors can train from start to finish in a regional or rural area and residents in those areas get the health care they deserve,” Mr McCormack said.

“Research shows if we train – from start to finish – more doctors in the bush we can attract more people who will want to make the regions their home.

“Those people will be more likely to meet their life partners – as so many do during study – and establish a base in the country.

“We have recognised a maldistribution in doctor supply and tonight’s announcement in the 2018 Federal Budget will go a long way to address this.

“The Nationals understand that simply training more doctors is not the answer.”

Mr McCormack said the Government understood the needs of regional and rural Australia.

“We are elected to speak up for the people who do not have the access to a doctor they deserve,” Mr McCormack said.

“That’s why the Government has invested significantly to address the disparity in health care between metropolitan areas and rural and regional Australia.

“A medical school in Wagga Wagga will allow student doctors to have start-to-finish training in a country centre. Research shows if you train someone locally, they are more likely to stay in those areas and contribute positively to the local community.

“I’m proud to be a part of The Nationals’ team which has fought hard for residents living in rural areas and, as a representative of a rural electorate, I am pleased to be able to deliver on such an important aspect of every person’s life.”

Mr McCormack has been a fierce advocate of addressing the maldistribution of doctors into rural and regional Australia since he entered politics in 2010 and said the medical school funding announcement would help address shortfalls in smaller communities in the Riverina and Central West.

“Soon after my election to Parliament I got together a group of local doctors, community leaders and specialists who wanted to be part of the solution in the Riverina region,” Mr McCormack said.

Mr McCormack has worked with the Rural Medical School Implementation Committee, which he established in 2011, to push the case for a medical school in Wagga Wagga.

A strident advocate of the rural medical school concept and chairman of the Rural Medical School Implementation Committee, Wagga radiologist Associate Professor Nick Stephenson, welcomed the announcement.

“A rural medical school in Wagga Wagga will ensure doctors can be trained from start to finish in rural and regional areas,” Dr Stephenson said.

“Evidence from all over the world shows that newly graduated doctors are most likely to choose to live and work rurally if they and/or their life partner have a rural origin and also if they have spent a considerable amount of their training time in regional and rural areas.

“Wagga Wagga and other large regional capitals are ready for a rural medical school. Wagga Wagga has mature and successful rural clinical schools.

“A rural medical school is the logical progression so that high school graduates can spend the whole of their medical school time in a regional centre.

“At the same time if we have senior academics in the medical school living locally, the development of the post-graduate training pathways will be more rapidly and sustainably assured.

“You need the right doctors with the right skills where the patients are and there is inequity between metropolitan and rural areas now.

“We are short of 40 GP proceduralists in this region alone. We haven’t been training the doctors with the right skills to go to those smaller towns.  The next critical workforce need is in those smaller towns.

“We are not going to get there by having metropolitan-focused medical schools and training networks, we need regionally and rurally based training networks and rural medical schools.

“Michael McCormack has played a critical role in securing this important health care development and the Rural Medical School Implementation Committee is ready to facilitate, guide and support a Wagga Wagga-based rural medical school.

"The committee has worked hard to have regional and rural voices heard."

Minister for Rural Health and Deputy Nationals’ Leader Senator Bridget McKenzie acknowledged the challenges to training and retaining doctors and allied health professionals in the regions.

“Through our transformational Stronger Rural Health Strategy, we are changing the model to enable students to undertake the majority of their training in rural and regional areas. This provides a continuum for doctors to learn, train and work in the regions.

“The establishment of the Murray-Darling Medical Schools Network is one of the ways we are working to improve the medical training pipeline in the regions.

“This will be complemented by work already under way by the National Rural Health Commissioner to develop the National Rural Generalist Pathway to channel future rural specialists into the regions.”

Shane Manning