Charles Sturt University (CSU) Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Vann has welcomed the announcement in last night's Budget of $6 million in funding to construct a Family Medical Practice on the University's Bathurst Campus as part of the University's health and wellness precinct.
However, the University was disappointed that funding was not provided for its bid to establish a new private training hospital in Bathurst, or to establish new medical schools in Australia to address rural doctor shortages.
"The University was very pleased with the announcement of $6 million from the Health and Hospital Fund for a new Family Medical Practice in Bathurst as part of the University's multi-million dollar Health and Wellness Precinct," Professor Vann said.
"The Centre will be built alongside the University's existing $5 million Community Dental and Oral Health Clinic, and $7 million Community Engagement and Wellness Clinic (funded by Health Workforce Australia) that will begin construction this year.”
"The funding provided will deliver an important expansion of health services to our communities, and provide an important inter-professional training facility for our health and nursing students.
"Nonetheless, the decision not to fund the Stage 4 private training hospital development will be a big disappointment for the Bathurst community."The University is also disappointed that the government did not use the Budget to address the low number of rural students getting into city-based medical schools, and the continuing shortage of Australian medical graduates entering rural practice.
"There are two current proposals with the government to establish new rurally-focused medical schools in Australia, at Charles Sturt University and Curtin University, and neither was funded in this year's Budget.
"The fact is that the government had a major budget deficit to overcome this year and new rural medical education initiatives were simply not high enough on the agenda.”
Professor Vann said the failure to address this issue in the 2012/13 budget will only compound rural doctor shortages into the future, and will increase pressure on the government and opposition to come up with solutions in an election year.
"Health Workforce Australia reported two weeks ago that current rural medical education strategies have failed to solve the rural doctor shortage, and will not do so in the future,” Professor Vann said.
"We strongly believe the government should fund a new medical school at Charles Sturt University in the near future because it is the only institution in the region that can prove its ability to attract rural students and get graduates into rural practice.
"It will no doubt be disappointing to rural communities that the opportunity was not grasped in this budget.
"We remain resolved on this issue and won't turn our back on our communities. We will continue to expose the failings of existing strategies and press our case strongly with the government on behalf of our communities.”
Professor Vann said he was pleased, however, that the government has committed to reviewing rural medical and health workforce programs in light of the conclusion in Health Workforce 2025 that current strategies are failing to address rural doctor and health workforce shortages.
"We have already talked to the department about the terms of reference for the review, and will be pressing the government to ensure that the review is totally independent and that there is widespread consultation with rural people directly affected by doctor shortages as well as with rural medical practitioners.
"Our goal over the next year will be to make sure that all political parties understand the seriousness of this issue, and the determination of rural communities to see proven solutions to this problem in the lead up to the next federal election," Professor Vann said.
The University is still waiting on a final decision from the government on its $63.6 million bid for funding to significantly expand its nursing and allied health programs in western NSW.