Registrars’ $30k ‘lifeline’ delayed

4 minute read

Victorian Labor’s last election platform included $32 million to incentivise medical students to enrol in GP training, but this year’s cohort won’t see a cent.

Victorian registrars who joined GP training with the promise of a $32m investment in first-year trainees have been left feeling short-changed after the state abruptly delayed the program.

Under the scheme, which was announced late last year, first-year GP registrars were to receive a one-off $30,000 “top-up” payment to ensure they weren’t taking a significant pay cut to become a GP.

Each registrar would also receive an additional $10,000 to cover their first-year exams.

It was set to run for two years and was widely understood by registrars to be starting with the 2023 cohort.

In July, they got word that the program had been delayed by a year.

Boosting affordable primary healthcare in the state was a cornerstone of Premier Daniel Andrews’ re-election campaign in late 2022 and funding was promised for various causes including GP registrars, women’s health clinics and pharmacy scope-of-practice trials.

True to his word, the 2023 state budget included funding and fanfare for 20 new women’s health clinics and the 12-month pharmacist-led prescribing trial is slated to begin in October.

The $32m in funding to incentivise recent medical graduates to pursue general practice was included as a line item in the budget, but mentions of it following Mr Andrews’ initial announcement in November have been scarce.

The announcement itself came on November 23, just two days before the second intake offers for the 2023 Australian GP Training Program were finalised.

This creates the possibility that some junior doctors could have made the decision to do GP training after hearing the announcement and assuming it would apply to them.

Even if that only accounts for a relatively small number of registrars, the gap between the funding announcement and finding out that the program wouldn’t start until 2024 did mean that all the new registrars spent seven months assuming that they would be receiving a $30,000 grant.

First-year GP registrar Dr Emily Rodrigo told The Medical Republic that while she’d always wanted to pursue general practice, leaving a hospital salary and entitlements had been challenging.

“After working three years in the hospital, I was able to achieve a decent hourly rate,” she said.

“And then of course that comes with overtime, paid [leave] and loading and all those sorts of things … and then you come to general practice, and you’re cut back down to pretty close to an intern’s salary, to be honest.”

Dr Rodrigo has had to dig into her savings this year just to make ends meet, and she considers herself one of the lucky ones.

“I’m someone without any dependants or mortgages or anything like that, so I don’t know how most of us are doing it,” she said.

Along with around 100 other first-year Victorian registrars and the GPRA, Dr Rodrigo is co-signatory on a letter to Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas expressing disappointment that the program will not start until next year.

“Hundreds of GP registrars relied on your promise, and committed to GP training this year,” the letter said.

“Without the promised financial support, we may be forced to leave general practice training and redirect our careers to other areas of medicine, leaving an even greater trainee deficit.”

It goes on to detail the financial strain that many first-year GP trainees are under, particularly in relation to the $9679 they are required to pay in exam fees.

The anticipated funding was seen by many in the incoming 2023 cohort as a “lifeline”.

“It was a game-changing promise that allowed many of us to commit to a career in general practice, where we otherwise couldn’t afford to,” the letter said.

“And then in late July we were told that we have been excluded from this benefit.

“We have been told that we are one year too early, despite being promised these benefits before we commenced our training.”

A Victorian government spokesman told TMR that planning to deliver the funding was “well under way” and that more details about the payments will be issued soon.

This story has been updated to note the involvement of GPRA in writing to Health Minister Thomas.

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