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Declining GP supply is a major concern for Aust hospitals

31 January, 2008

AMA President, Dr Rosanna Capolingua, has said that figures showing an increase in the number of doctors practising in Australia also reveal a disturbing decline in the supply of full-time practising GPs.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report – Medical labour force 2005 – shows that medical practitioner numbers rose by 13 per cent between 2001 and 2005, but reduced working hours meant the real increase in overall supply was around four per cent. 

While the overall supply of medical practitioners increased to 287 full-time equivalent (FTE) per 100,000 population in 2005 from 277 FTE in 2001, the number of GPs declined from 104 FTE per 100,000 in 2001 to 98 FTE in 2005.  In rural and remote areas, there were 92 FTE GPs per 100,000 population and just 84 FTE GPs in outer regional areas.

According to the AIHW, while the total number of GPs increase by 4.2 per cent over the period, this did not keep pace with population growth.  Coupled with the impact of reduced working hours, this meant that GP supply actually fell by just under 6 per cent.

Dr Capolingua said the new Government must make support for general practice a priority in its first year, which will involve Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, delivering on her promise to streamline Medicare and get rid of all the red tape that cuts into the time that GPs can spend with their patients

“GPs are the face of quality health care for Australians and we cannot allow patient access to GPs to decline further,” Dr Capolingua said.

“Patients know and trust their GPs to provide them with holistic care and advice.  Communities value their GPs and do not want to lose them.  The supply of GPs must keep pace with Australia’s population growth and increasing health needs.

“The Government must expand training opportunities for medical students, pre-vocational doctors and GP registrars in existing general practices.  We must encourage more GPs to get involved in training the next generation of doctors.

“We need investment in infrastructure and facilities and there must be proper recognition of the costs that GPs incur when training and supervising medical students and junior doctors.

“If we can give people a rewarding taste of general practice early in their career, they are more likely to look at it as a long term career option.

“The AIHW report shows clearly that greater incentives – such as more clinical time with patients and less red tape - are needed to attract GPs, especially young GPs, to live and work in rural and outer suburban Australia and stay there for the long haul.

“Cutting red tape in general practice is a priority.  Doctors want to spend time with patients instead of being bookkeepers who fill out lots of forms to keep the Government happy.

“GPs are placing a lot of faith in the Government commitment to simplify the Medicare Benefits Schedule.

“General practice must be a key focus of the May Federal Budget,” Dr Capolingua said.

“We welcome the fact that there has been strong growth in most parts of the medical workforce, with specialists up 16 per cent, hospital non-specialists up 28.3 per cent, and trainee specialists (up 27.5 per cent) compared to 2001.

“We want to see the same trend in general practice.

“Medical graduate numbers will more than double over the next few years but the AIHW report indicates that too few graduates are choosing general practice training.

“We must act now to make general practice a more attractive career choice for medical students,” Dr Capolingua said.

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