Western Australia is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars flying in surgeons, nurses and doctors from as far away as Oman to cover shifts in remote and rural areas.

A parliamentary report reveals that in the last three months of 2012, travel expenses were paid 185 times for medical staff to fly in from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, New Zealand and on one occasion Oman.

The flights cost taxpayers more than $340,000.

The vast majority of the trips were to cover medical shifts in remote and rural regions including Broome, Karratha, Kalgoorlie, Albany and Port Hedland.

The "fly in, fly out" health workforce included emergency department doctors, anaesthetists, psychiatrists, nurses, obstetricians and paediatric specialists.

Health minister Kim Hames says WA is not exempt from a global shortage of specialist medical professionals.

"WA is not exempt from the challenges this poses to recruiting a specialist medical workforce, particularly when it comes to rural and remote regions," Dr Hames told AAP.

"Our preference is to strengthen education and training here in WA and grow our own specialist workforce."

Dr Hames defended the practice, saying often there's not enough work to require a full-time position in smaller communities, and staff may also be brought in to cover leave periods.

"While cost is an important factor, the safety and quality of care given to patients is our paramount concern."

However, opposition health spokesman Roger Cook says the number of flights in just three months is indicative of the Barnett government's "lack of workforce planning and management".

"Clearly our health dollars would go further if we did not have to fly in experienced doctors from overseas," Mr Cook said.

Richard Choong, president of the Australian Medical Association in WA, says the practice is an unfortunate necessity to keep the state's health service running in rural regions.

"It does not surprise me, and it is going to take time to train more nursing and medical staff for all of Western Australia," Mr Choong said.

 

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