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Repat closure puts future health workforce at risk: senior doctors

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The impending closure of the Repatriation General Hospital risks tainting the quality of South Australia’s future medical workforce and discouraging international students from studying here, senior Flinders Medical Centre doctors say.

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Professor Bill Heddle told parliament’s Transforming Health committee this morning that the hospital reform program “has had a significant effect on the ability of the university to undertake its core activities: teaching and research”.

Heddle, a senior clinician and a member of Flinders University’s College of Medicine and Public Health, told the committee the relocation of student placements from the Repat to Flinders Medical Centre posed “a significant threat to the quality of the future medical workforce in South Australia”.

He said the Repat, due to close by the end of the year, provided about 15,000 clinical placement days per year for Flinders’ students of medicine, nursing, speech pathology, physiotherapy, social work and occupational therapy.

“[Those] students will need to have placements found elsewhere,” he said.

“There is a significant shortage of these placements across South Australia already.

“This problem has been alleviated in part by [a] substantial increase in placements at Flinders Medical Centre, with a doubling up of students on already-overstretched services, at a time [when] the hospital is as busy as it’s ever been.”

He said Flinders Medical Centre had the second-busiest emergency department in the country.

“The closure of the Repatriation site will [also] have a significant impact on clinical research currently being undertaken there.”

He said research in sleep medicine, rheumatology, endocrinology, orthopaedics and urology would be impacted.

“This threatens the capacity of the university to produce research higher degree students and win competitive research grants […which constitute] a significant current and future part of the SA economy,” he said.

“The closure of the site also threatens the training of junior doctors and specialist trainees who have worked at the site over many years.”

He said a loss of training opportunities could even threaten the accreditation of the university’s medical course.

“The Australian Medical Council does keep a very close eye on what’s going on in a medical school to make sure that the students have the opportunities which they previously had.”

“[If accreditation was withdrawn] then there’s no point in students coming to the medical course – we’d be finished.”

Associate professor Michael Shanahan, also of the College of Medicine and Public Health, told the committee: “We know that it is hard to attract quality people into out public hospitals from outside South Australia.”

“If we have a significant diminution of the training opportunities … in this state, it will be very hard to [attract students] from elsewhere.”

Heddle added that: “The university has advised us to say that we speak on this issue not as members of the university but as specialists who are involved in location of training.”

According to the Transforming Health website, the Repat “provides high quality services, but many of the current public hospital facilities are outdated and cannot provide all of the spaces, equipment and layout needed for modern medical treatments”.

“In addition, best practice indicates that some services, such as rehabilitation services, should be co-located with acute medical services to ensure they can start as soon as the patient is ready.

“Under Transforming Health, all services currently received by veterans and the community, including all clinical and rehabilitation services currently provided at the Repatriation General Hospital, will continue at different locations across our metropolitan hospitals.”

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