Government Must Act Now Or GP Shortages Will Worsen

30 Apr 2006

The Government needs to urgently provide better support for GPs if Australia is to avoid a chronic long-term shortage in our GP workforce, especially in country areas and the outer suburbs of our major cities, AMA President, Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, said today.

Dr Haikerwal's comments reflect a research paper in the latest edition of the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) that found even with the recent boost to medical training places Australia faces a chronic shortage of GPs for years into the future.

Dr Haikerwal said neglect of Medicare for more than a decade by successive governments had made general practice a less attractive option for medical graduates.

"The Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) needs a total overhaul so that patient rebates reflect 21st century medical practice and the complexity of patient care," Dr Haikerwal said.

"The Relative Value Study (RVS) conducted by the AMA and the Government a few years ago provided the modelling for an MBS overhaul and the current proposal for a seven-tier GP consult structure goes part of the way towards a solution, but massive reform is needed.

"While recent Budgets and election promises have gone some way towards addressing the problem, the problem is still there," Dr Haikerwal said.

"Without greater incentives and support, doctors will be forced to leave their practices.

"This means patients will find it much more difficult to get to see a doctor when they need one," Dr Haikerwal said.

The MJA study predicts that, although the overall medical workforce will expand, doctors will increasingly move into specialties other than general practice.

"This paper puts a welcome spotlight on the essential need for retention of GPs, a message the AMA has been pushing for some time," Dr Haikerwal said.

"The Government is attempting to address the existing medical workforce shortage by announcing big increases in medical student numbers, and these must be converted to fully-trained GPs and other specialists.

"It is now time for Governments to switch their focus to the enormous challenge of how to properly train all these new doctors, then keeping enough of them in the GP workforce.

"That means more beds, more theatre time, more supervisors and better infrastructure to train these doctors - and it means making general practice an attractive alternative to specialty.

"There must be greater recognition of the need for quality training in general practice to attract medical students and doctors in training to pursue a career in general practice.

"Enhancing the use of GP nurses under the supervision of GPs, through the extension of Medicare item numbers and practice nurse subsidies, is one way to improve conditions for GPs," Dr Haikerwal said.

The AMA brought the GP shortage to the nation's attention with the AMA Access Economics report into the medical workforce in 2001, at a time when the Government was saying there was an over-supply of GPs.

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