The West

Doctors and nurses from interstate and New Zealand are being flown to hospitals in regional and remote WA to cover short-term vacancies, costing taxpayers more than $40,000 a month.

The Department of Health spent $96,176 on travel for 73 interstate doctors and nurses and $33,884 on travel for 16 medicos from New Zealand in the first three months of this year, according to figures tabled in State Parliament last week.

The fly-in, fly-out trips typically lasted between one and six weeks, with a handful exceeding three months, at an average cost of $1369 per trip.

Those flown in included general practitioners, nurses, general surgeons, paediatricians, obstetricians, physiotherapists and anaesthetists at hospitals including Albany, Port Hedland, Nickol Bay, Kununurra and Kalumburu.

In one case, in January, a Sydney doctor was flown in for just five days to provide emergency department cover at Albany hospital at a cost of $1506.

In another case in February, a New Zealand doctor was flown in for five days to provide medical cover at Kalgoorlie hospital, costing $2400.

Health Minister Kim Hames said though the Government's preference was to increase WA's specialist workforce, it was "standard practice in our hospitals and it is not uncommon elsewhere in Australia".

He said there were three scenarios when medical specialists might be flown in from interstate or overseas:

·Routine visits by specialists to smaller communities where there is not enough work for a full-time appointment.

·Covering periods of annual leave or professional development of permanent staff.

·Locums who work on a short-term basis to provide temporary coverage while a job vacancy is advertised and filled.

Dr Hames said WA would take a record 332 medical interns this year and the Government was spending $75 million on doctor training over the next five years.

Shadow health minister Roger Cook said Dr Hames was too focused on "big projects and not enough on developing our (medical) workforce".

"If you're running a FIFO workforce from Perth down to Albany, that's one thing," he said. "But if you have to bring them in from the Eastern States, it really means you're failing to develop the workforce you need to."

Australian Medical Association WA president Richard Choong said filling vacancies from WA was preferable.

'It really means you're failing to develop the workforce you need to.'"Shadow health minister *Roger Cook *

The West Australian

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