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Nation needs to train more GPs


Affordable and timely access to the family doctor is under threat without greater investment in general practitioner training, the nation’s GP leaders have warned.

Seizing on figures showing that for the first time specialists outnumber general practitioners, the umbrella group United General Practice Australia has called for urgent action to mitigate a recent decline in the nation’s supply of GPs.

In a joint statement, the six organisations that make up UGPA – the AMA, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the Australian General Practice Network, General Practice Registrars Australia, the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine and the Rural Doctors Association of Australia – said general practice needed greater Government support to boost trainee numbers and ensure there were sufficient GPs to continue to provide quality primary care.

The call followed the release of an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report (see A special time to be a doctor) showing that, while the specialist workforce grew by more than 30 per cent between 2008 and 2012 to reach 217.8 full time equivalent specialists per 100,000 people, during the same period the proportion of GPs remained virtually stagnant at around 112 FTE per 100,000.

“[The report] showed a decline in the supply of GPs, despite recent increases to GP vocational training,” UGPA said.

The peak group also raised concerns that proposals to expand the scope of practice of pharmacists risked fragmenting patient care.

UGPA said there was a lack of evidence to support the suggestion by the Pharmacy Guild of Australia for the Government to pay its members to conduct basic health checks on their customers, and expressed concern about changes to ration access to Home Medicine Review services.

“UGPA is concerned programs that risk patient care and have no link to a GP are being proposed over those that facilitate the provision of collaborative care arrangements and quality patient care, particularly for patients with chronic and complex conditions,” the peak group said.

It said a medically-led, team-based model of care ensured quality care, including preventing adverse events and maintain care continuity.

The peak group called on the Federal Government, in its forthcoming Budget, to “show a commitment to general practice” by lifting the number of community-based GP placements and vocational training numbers to 1700 a year by 2017.

UGPA said there needed to be an increase in training places to ensure appropriate supervision of trainees undertaking vocational training.

UGPA added that rural infrastructure grants, recently boosted by the Government, would be most effectively used, and have the greatest community benefit, if they were directed to general practices.

“General practice is the most efficient and cost-effective way to deliver quality patient care and successfully manage the rising burden of chronic and complex disease; treating the issue before secondary and tertiary care services is required,” the group said. 

UGPA said that “increasing the number of general practice training places is a positive initiative, provided clinical supervision capacity issues and appropriate infrastructure to facilitate high quality training, are adequately addressed”.

Adrian Rollins