The AMA has opposed the BMP Scheme since its inception and has consistently lobbied the Government to relax the heavy-handed conditions of the Scheme.
Dr Capolingua said the Government has consulted closely with the AMA to make the BMP Scheme fairer for medical students.
"All current BMP Scheme students will now be able to sign onto modified contracts that relax their duration, tenure, and return of service obligations," Dr Capolingua said.
"The changes make the system less draconian, but they will not solve the rural medical workforce crisis. To encourage doctors to take on country practice for the long term, we need incentives such as HECS relief and scholarships, not bonding."
Under the changes made to the BMP Scheme:
- the length of the return of service period is changed from a fixed six-year period to equal the length of the graduate medical degree - for example, a four-year degree would require four years of bonded service
- up to half of the return of service can now be met while completing either pre-vocational training, or vocational training; but the intern year does not count as eligible service
- the eligible 'districts of workforce shortage' for training to count towards the bond requirement have been expanded
- BMP students can now apply to stay in a district of workforce shortage from the time they begin vocational training.
The BMP Scheme was introduced in 2004 in response to the shortage of doctors in rural Australia — 234 HECS-funded medical school places were offered to students willing to be bonded to Government-designated areas of medical workforce shortage.
Bonded students do not receive financial assistance, scholarships or other incentives for either their basic medical degree or postgraduate vocational training, and must pay their HECS debt in full. The number of places offered each year has increased to 500.
The removal of the cap on full fee-paying places by the Government earlier this year added to the unfairness of bonding — people with the financial resources can avoid bonding, while more disadvantaged students may be forced to take a bonded place as their only means of entering medical school.