Warning SA missing more than 100 trainee doctors

UPDATED: The Australian Medical Association says interstate competition is partly to blame for a shortage of more than 100 trainee doctors across South Australia’s public hospitals, amid a warning that the number could increase to 190 by the end of this year.

Jan 11, 2023, updated Jan 11, 2023
Photo: Karolina Grabowska/Pexels

Photo: Karolina Grabowska/Pexels

The AMA has written to a parliamentary committee warning there are at least 106 unfilled junior medical officer roles across South Australia for 2023.

It states that number comprises general trainees only and does not include specific registered medical officer roles.

The SA Salaried Medical Officers Association (SASMOA) believes there could be up to 190 trainee vacancies by the end of this year unless the government “makes life more attractive” for junior doctors.

It comes as other states including Victoria offer temporary incentives of up to $13,000 to lure overseas trainee doctors to their hospitals, with both the AMA and SASMOA calling for South Australia to do the same.

In a submission to parliament’s Health Services Select Committee, AMA state president Dr Michelle Atchison warned existing staff feel “sick, burned out and stressed” after working through nearly three years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said doctors’ capacity to care for patients was “severely limited”, with more health workers needed.

“While the state government has announced funding for staff in various services, we question how South Australia will attract sufficient staff when South Australia’s EBA (Enterprise Bargaining Agreement) for junior doctors is not competitive in comparison with other states,” she wrote.

“States such as Victoria and Tasmania are offering attractive incentives for international doctors.

“Incentives such as these not only deny South Australia of the best international talent but may restrict international medical graduates coming to the state, thereby increasing the pressure on the existing workforce.”

SA Health currently pays junior medical officers between $77,084 to $135,949 per annum, increasing to between $140,153 to $207,588 for senior medical officers.

In comparison, Tasmania pays junior medical officers between $75,315 to $89,709 per annum, but it also offers financial incentives to lure overseas graduates to its hospitals.

SASMOA chief industrial officer Bernadette Mulholland said South Australia was currently competing at both a national and international level to attract a pool of trainee medical staff.

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She said trainee medical officers had reported better working conditions and salaries in eastern states.

“If we’re not going to compete in that national and international field on terms and conditions then we’re in for a really difficult ride,” she said.

“The expectation is if we don’t do something this year to make life more attractive for working environments we could reach up to 190 (trainee doctor) vacancies in SA Health, which is what’s predicted.

“We need to be able to compete with New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania and we’re certainly not putting incentive payments up to attract those people from interstate and overseas to come to us.”

Mulholland said South Australia was also the only state that allowed doctors to be rostered to work just eight hours after the completion of their previous shift.

“You get home, you spend some time with the family maybe, you have a meal, you get into bed, you get back up and then you have to drive back in,” she said.

“These are the things that make it a little bit more unattractive.”

In a statement, a SA Health spokesperson said while there was some variation across different states and territories, the department was “in a competitive position” and continued to attract international and interstate medical graduates.

“We have undertaken significant work to ensure we have the right workforce in the right place at the right time to provide the best health services to South Australia,” they said. 

“We are looking at a number of measures to remain competitive, including reviewing relocation benefits and the way we pay international medical graduates, to ensure these measures are attractive to potential talent.

“We are aware of the pressure that our staff have been under during the pandemic and this is still being felt, and we are continuing to review and implement measures that ensure the safety and wellbeing of our staff.”

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