JCU pulls out of GP training amid funding doubts

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James Cook, the nation’s first rural medical school, has 900 GP graduates in fellowships in northern Queensland.

James Cook University, the last RTO standing after the transition of GP training back to the RACGP and to ACCRM, will cease its hugely successful generalist training program citing funding concerns.

Speaking to The Medical Republic, ACRRM president Dr Dan Halliday said the college was in talks with JCU and the Department of Health and Aged Care to “ensure there is minimal disruption to registrar training “and that he had “full confidence” the college could take on the additional training.

JCU has set itself apart from other medical training venues over the years as the first rural medical school, providing “end-to-end” regional training pathways for GPs.

Since its naissance in 2016, around a third of its students have gone on to be GPs, 11% are rural generalists and 10% are generalist specialists of some description.

Over 900 of JCU’s GP graduates are now fellows in northern Queensland.

Amid the return of GP training to the colleges, announced by former federal health minister Greg Hunt in 2017, JCU signed a collaborative partnership with ACRRM and the RACGP to continue to deliver its general practice and rural generalist fellowship training as part of the “college-led training model”.

“We bring our in-depth clinical and community knowledge and strong relationships with training posts across Queensland to the excellent training programs offered by the RACGP and ACRRM,” its website reads.

“Together, we are providing rewarding training and career opportunities that offer adventure, skills and impact.

“We look forward to continuing to work closely with both ACRRM and RACGP in the years ahead.”

But on Monday, JCU announced that it will be transitioning away from providing rural generalist training in 2024, handing the baton back to the colleges.

According to JCU, the change is due to uncertainty over funding, as the current agreement only guarantees funding until June.

“This decision was not made lightly; however, ultimately, the national shift to a College-led delivery model over the past 12 months makes ongoing funding for JCU’s role in delivering training less secure,” JCU’s ‪dean, medicine and dentistry Professor Richard Murray told TMR.

“It is for this reason we have made the tough decision to realign our involvement in GP training at this time to ensure we can prioritise providing timely information, support and advice to our staff and stakeholders, allowing for an orderly transition to the new College-led approach from June 2024,” he said.

“JCU will remain closely involved in GP and multi-professional training for primary care and, we are strongly committed to the delivery of integrated local-community-based primary care training as well as building the teaching and research capacity of the rural-primary-care sector.”

Details on the timing of the transition have not yet been confirmed.

Dr Halliday told TMR that the agreement signed last year had a lifespan and was due for review.

“JCU has made the decision [to stop providing training] based on what its interests are and ACRRM respects that and will be working through the process with JCU,” he added.

Dr Halliday said the college had no concerns about picking up additional trainees.

“We believe that we have capacity to grow our structures to be able to meet the future demand,” he said.

“And as such, we’ve flagged within our budget submission that we would like to expand our rural generalist training, not just in Queensland, but across the country.

“And we’re prepared to step up as we need to.”

The RACGP also has confidence in its ability to take on additional registrars.

“I’m looking forward to bringing North West Queensland into alignment with the rest of the country to deliver a nationally consistent, regionally supported and locally delivered GP training program,” said RACGP president Dr Nicole Higgins in a release.

“GPs in training are our future doctors who care for communities Australia-wide and it’s critical that they are supported.”

So far, eight training organisations have transitioned back to the RACGP, preparing the RACGP for the “seamless transition” of training in North West Queensland.

“Practices and registrars in North West Queensland are already using RACGP systems which will provide a seamless experience and limited change for most,” said Dr Higgins.

“The RACGP’s nationally consistent, regionally supported and locally delivered GP training program has been built to support every community and we look forward to continuing this work across Queensland,” she said.

“This change will enable the RACGP to optimise training program opportunities within the state.”

According to the recent Medical Training Survey, the transitions have gone smoothly in the eyes of registrars.

Results showed that “the quality of supervision, orientation, education and training and patient safety training has improved” in 2023.

For GP registrars undertaking training with the RACGP, 84% would recommend their current training position to others or their workplace as a place to train.

The copy has been updated to include quotes from JCU’s dean.

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