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No place for GP shortage

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The AMA has called for an urgent boost to general practice training if there is to be sufficient family doctors to meet future health needs.

The Association said decisive action was needed to increase the combined annual intake of the Australian GP Training program and the Prevocational General Practice Placement Program from the current level of around 1200 places to at least 1500 places by 2016 and 1700 places by 2019.

AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton warned that, without such a lift in the training effort, patients would face increasing waiting times to see their family doctor, undermining efforts to prevent illness and keep people out of hospitals.

“Family doctors are cost effective and keep the population as healthy as possible through preventive care and early interventions, reducing the burden on hospitals,” Dr Hambleton said. “If you want to keep waiting times down and ensure there is a GP in every community, invest in training.”

The AMA made its call following the recent release of a report by Health Workforce Australia predicting the national shortage of GPs will surge to 614 positions by 2018 unless there was a lift in training.

Highlighting the country’s dependence on doctors from overseas to help plug workforce gaps, the HWA report showed that if the intake of GPs from offshore was cut, the shortage would blow out to more than 2000 places in the next five years.

The most recent Medical Workforce 2011 report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) showed a decline in the supply of GPs despite recent increases to GP vocational training, whereas other specialty areas demonstrated overall growth. Further, the report confirms the maldistribution of the Australian general practice workforce with an ongoing shortage of GPs in outer metropolitan, rural and remote Australia.

HWA said demand for GPs was likely to grow at 3.2 per cent a year, and said the uneven distribution of family doctors around the country was “a significant concern”.

“Of all the specialty workforces, general practice is the most integral in providing primary care to the community,” it said. “The GP workforce needs to be closely aligned to where people live.”

It found that, whereas major cities had 124 GPs for every 100,000 people, in outer regional areas this ratio dropped to 99 GPs per 100,000, and 106 per 100,000 in inner regional areas.

In a joint statement earlier this year, GP representative groups including the AMA noted that medical undergraduate training places were originally increased to redress the rural and outer metropolitan community’s access to general practice services.

“However, United General Practice Australia believes decisive action by the Government is needed to increase GP training numbers, to ensure that Australia attains a balance between the general practice and specialist workforces,” the statement said.

Dr Hambleton said any lift in the training intake needed to be supported by improved support for practitioners who provide instruction and supervision.

He said the Practice Incentive Payment for teaching medical students should be raised to $200 for each teaching session, to better reflect the costs incurred by GPs in providing instruction.

“Family doctors need access to infrastructure, teaching tools and resources, and need to be supported to improve their teaching skills,” he said. “Supporting our current GPs to teach the next generation of family doctors is vital to meet future community health needs.”

Adrian Rollins