By ED SOUTHORN
THE $5 million Tweed Clinical Education and Research Institute was yesterday declared a unique model for the Australian medical sector to help ease regional shortages of health professionals.
One of the largest gatherings of politicians, bureaucrats and academics ever to assemble on the Tweed for a sod-turning ceremony explained how the federal and NSW governments, a private university in Queensland and a public university in NSW all worked together to help ease the local doctor-shortage crisis.
The Tweed institute, including a Breast Screen NSW clinic, will each week train about 240 medical, nursing and allied health students from Griffith and Bond universities on the Gold Coast and Southern Cross University in northern NSW.
Clinical specialists and medical researchers will also work at the institute, now being built next to The Tweed Hospital and expected to open in February.
NSW Health Minister John Hatzistergos, among the dignitaries at the sod turning, said there was a lot of evidence to show health professionals trained in regional and rural areas were far more likely to build their careers outside metropolitan centres than students trained in big cities.
He said The Tweed Hospital would continue to care for Queensland patients, just as the new institute will take students mostly from Queensland universities.
"The community here in the Tweed doesn't believe they are divided from Queensland by the border," Mr Hatzistergos said.
"Already, 58 per cent of births at The Tweed Hospital are from across the border. Those expectant mothers from Queensland have made a good choice.
"This is the fastest-growing part of NSW and one of the fastestgrowing places in Australia.
"The Tweed Hospital is in a good position to be able to cope, and now to attract more students.
"There has been a 56 per cent increase in admissions at the hospital over the past three years, 23 per cent in the past year, but long waiting lists have been brought down to zero and overall waiting lists are down 11 per cent."
Mr Hatzistergos praised local community leaders from both sides of the border for securing funding and approvals for the new institute, financed with $2.2 million from the Federal Sustainable Regions program and a similar amount from the NSW government.
The Tweed Hospital general manager Trish Hogan thanked Tweed Shire co-administrator Max Boyd for assisting with development approval in line with Federal funding deadlines.
"When the two new medical schools (at Bond and Griffith universities) were approved, we saw an opportunity to get in on the ground floor and help train graduates," Associate Professor Hogan said.
She also thanked former Tweed Heads Bowls Club general manager and former Sustainable Regions local co-ordinator Geoff Provest, now the Tweed Nationals candidate, for his support with the fed- eral funding application.