Australia is experiencing a clear shortage of GPs and projections suggest that the problem will only worsen with the shortfall of full-time GPs in Australia potentially up by 24.7% by 2030.
Many practices are continuing to close down due to short-staffing with health services for some local residents over one hour away. With the impact on residents in areas like these being significant and some statistics have linked increased incidents of diseases like coronary heart disease, obstructive pulmonary disease, and even suicide with distance from health services.
So where have all the GPs gone? A major part of the problem is the shortage in supply of new GPs as fresh medical graduates opt for medical specialties because they are more lucrative. Additionally, doctors complete medical university in the city and urban areas and build relationships and networks in the city not in the rural and remote regions, making the move to the country less desirable.
Rural recruitment has always been a problem, which is why certain limitations have been placed on international medical graduates, requiring them to work in areas of short labour supply.
GP income is a part of the problem
The standard $38.75 Medicare rebate also contributes to the scarcity of GPs in Australia especially for those practices offering bulk billing services to patients. GPs are either expected to make continual personal sacrifices for the community to afford health services or add on a private billing component to their fee structure. A start on the path to a solution would be to make GP Medicare rebates on par with specialist consultations and allow GPs to bulk bill without any additional private billings to survive.
The barriers to entry don’t help
The barriers to entry for International Medical Graduates (IMGs) has become even higher in Australia over the years. The goal with these stringent barriers is to filter incoming professionals and ensure high-quality healthcare for residents of Australia. The downside is that few GPs make it through, further widening the gap between workforce supply in rural and urban areas.
Possible solutions to the problem
One proposed solution is a scenario where students are recruited from rural areas for admission into medical school, with subsequent hometown placement after graduation. Medical students may also be encouraged to acquire some rural experience during their education.
During COVID-19 there were high hopes that telehealth might become part of routine care. The rapid introduction of telehealth brought the future slightly closer as many healthcare providers and patients had a taste for how this could work. Telehealth can potentially solve not only issues arising during pandemics, but also how to improve access to healthcare for vulnerable and underserved populations. The use of telehealth would also make the system more responsive and flexible to patients’ needs. New telehealth items were funded from March 2020 to help protect patients and providers from COVID-19, as well as help circumvent the fall in demand for healthcare that led to substantial falls in income for many providers in 2020 (Scott, 2020). Since then, the use of telehealth has fallen overall as the pandemic in Australia has subsided. The use of telehealth reached its peak in April 2020 when 36 per cent of all Medicare consultation items for GPs and non-GP specialists were conducted using telehealth. By March 2021, the proportion of GP attendances using telehealth had fallen at 21.6 per cent, and to 13.4 per cent for other specialists. It is still unclear when it will stabilise and find its ‘natural’ rate.
At Medical Recruitment, we’ve been specialising in GP recruitment for a long time, so we have expert knowledge in the space. If you’re looking for an exciting opportunity to work as a permanent or locum GP job or even for a GP role after hours, then look no further - get in touch with our Recruitment Consultants now.