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GPRA President - Dr Sama Balasubramanian

A message from GPRA President Dr Sama Balasubramanian regarding the transition to College-led GP training.

As many of our members know, in 2017 Minister of Health Greg Hunt announced the plan to transition the management of the AGPT from the Department of Health to ACRRM and the RACGP. GPRA has been a supporter of this transition, which will occur from 1 January 2022.

This transition to College-led training offers several potential benefits for trainees and their supervisors and training practices; it offers a real opportunity to further enhance quality general practice training in Australia to benefit patients and communities across our nation. The translation of your experience to shape GP training is critical in meeting the healthcare needs of the Australian people.

As the independent peak body representing GP trainees, GPRA has consistently offered to provide advice and support in developing solutions or opportunities that enhance the GP training experience. The diverse community of GP training necessitates diverse representation in informing changes. We want to ensure that the trainee voice is heard, and your needs are considered during this transition period and in the future, College-led training. It is paramount for trainees that potential benefits are realised, downside risks are avoided and that no GP trainee is adversely affected during transition or beyond. We want the transition to College-led training to be a success.

We have recently learned that the Department has ‘currently taken a step back’ from the transition of GP training. The stated rationale for this temporary halt is ‘to consider how GP training intersects with key strategies under development and workforce planning across the multiple rural workforce programs’.

We are concerned that this step back and reconsideration is occurring at an extremely challenging time for GP trainees. GPRA’s recent pulse surveys show that the COVID-19 pandemic, and associated delays in College exams then rapid pivot to new assessment formats, has caused very high levels of stress and uncertainty amongst many GP trainees. The ‘bottlenecking’ effects of the pandemic will mean that many currently in the AGPT program, along with those commencing next year, will be registrars at the time that transition occurs in 2022. Therefore, it is imperative that this process occurs with minimal disruption and no disadvantage to GP trainees.

At a time when careful planning and thoughtful preparation is absolutely required, GPRA is most concerned that there are delays, heightened uncertainty, and rumours abounding. Change, while challenging, can be beneficial provided corporate knowledge is maintained and leveraged. However, changes made in haste and without consultation with key stakeholders who will be most affected, namely trainees and supervisors, risk unintended consequences with long term ramifications for healthcare in our country.

With a proven track record in working with and representing GPs in training, GPRA is acutely aware of future workforce shortages and concerns over deteriorating recruitment into GP training. Chronic underfunding and undervaluing of our profession are key drivers. Ultimately, all GP trainees and their supervisors seek to deliver excellent patient care to their communities; need to be supported with high-quality training; and want to be recognised and valued for their contributions to healthcare. Considering the needs of GP trainees and supervisors, focusing on the synergy of the trainee-supervisor relationship and linking this to the needs of our communities is critical.

GP trainees are the future of general practice, and it is critical that their needs and views are duly considered as they affect not only the destiny of primary healthcare in Australia, but the needs of patients as well. By meeting the needs of trainees and supervisors we meet the needs of our patients and our communities. Given the current level of uncertainty and rumours, I have written again to Minister Hunt and the Department of Health to encourage them to continue to consult with GPRA and to ensure that GP trainee needs are central to all considerations and decisions regarding the transition of training and the future of general practice in Australia.

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