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Actual availability of general practice appointments for mildly ill children

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There are concerns that there may be shortages in the Australian primary care workforce, especially in rural and regional areas. However, some have suggested that a shortage of general practitioners is also a problem in metropolitan areas.1 In some outer suburbs of Melbourne, residents have reported significant difficulty in acquiring a medical certificate for sick leave in a timely manner, and that waiting 2 weeks for a doctor’s appointment is common.2 Similarly, some GPs in Melbourne have reported having to close their books due to excessive demand, with one doctor stating he had to turn patients away for 2 years3. Even in some inner-city Melbourne practices, doctors have reported having to close their books, and hearing from patients that they have had to telephone four or five clinics just to obtain an appointment.4

An actual or perceived lack of availability of primary care appointments may contribute to the increased rates of attendances at hospital emergency departments (EDs), as patients seek alternative ways to reach health care providers. Attendances at EDs are increasing at a rate exceeding population growth, and there is a perception among hospital staff that a significant portion of attendances are for conditions that do not require the urgent or specialised services that such departments provide.5