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High trainee doctor fail rate prompts 54 recommendations

Canberra Health Services is in the process of implementing 54 recommendations from a self-commissioned report, following a fail rate of 67% among Canberra’s trainee doctors.

The report was undertaken by two external reviewers after two consecutive years of low exam pass rates and found instances of poor workplace culture and excessive overtime.  

Canberra Health Services executive director of medical services, Dr Nick Coatsworth, said the organisation had looked to address roster issues and implement dedicated learning hours. 

“We have had this report for one year, we have assessed 38 recommendations we have fulfilled, and we are working on the remaining to get it to the whole 54,” he said.

“It’s a balance between delivering the service component of the job and studying to pass your exams but the trick is to get that right and, when that happens, the pass rate comes up and the exceptional care continues.”

The ACT was showing a pass rate of 37% last year, compared to the national average of 70.6%. The exams are yet to be taken this year, due to delays caused by COVID-19.

The report also found some instances of trainee physicians working up to 150 hours per fortnight, which Dr Coatsworth deemed unacceptable.

“It’s not possible to study when you’re working effectively 150 hours a fortnight,” he said.

“If that happens, then we are directly and promptly in contact with the unit that’s generating that work and making sure that work is more equitably distributed across the unit.

“They are not safe; they are not safe hours, so we get onto that very quickly.”

ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said it was a good sign that ACT Health has commissioned the report themselves and had shown “leadership” in doing so.

“That is exactly what a learning organisation and an organisation showing leadership would do if they started to see those results,” she said.

“It’s very clear from the report that there were changes prior to these low pass rates that did affect the pass rates for these trainees. Prior to those two years, the pass rates had been strong.”

The former Minister for Health called for an Independent Review into Workplace Culture within ACT Public Health Services during 2018, which handed down 20 recommendations after finding high levels of bullying through the workplaces.

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