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Report shows increased support needed for GPs and rural doctors

12 January, 2007

Crucial new figures show the Government must do more to train and support general practitioners to ensure all Australians are able to access GPs where and when they need them, AMA Vice President, Dr Choong-Siew Yong, has said.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) Medical Labour Force Report has revealed that the GP workforce is ageing, and working fewer hours.

It has also found that rural and remote areas suffered falls of up to 26 per cent in the number of full-time equivalent doctors between 2000 and 2004, highlighting an urgent need to increase resources for rural and remote areas, Dr Yong said.

“Clearly there’s an immediate need for the Federal Government to put more resources into general practice, and to increase support for doctors in rural and remote areas,” Dr Yong said.

“General practice must be a key focus of the May Federal Budget.

“While there was a 4.4 per cent increase in GP numbers, this doesn’t compensate for the fall in average weekly hours.

“Patients in some areas are already finding it difficult to access GPs when and where they need them, and with more GPs approaching retirement age, the situation is becoming more critical.

“The Government must do more to support existing GPs and encourage graduates to choose a career in general practice.”

The AMA is also calling for a funding boost to the rural retention program and the medical specialist outreach program.

“These programs are critical in regards to maintaining vital medical services for patients in rural and remote Australia,” Dr Yong said.

There is some good news on the medical workforce front, he said.

“Government-funded increases in medical school numbers will see graduate numbers more than double over the next few years,” he said.

“However, unless the Government urgently increases support for general practice and rural and remote doctors, this report suggests many new graduates will opt for specialty training.”