Australia is heading for a major shortage of general practitioners in the next decade, sparking calls for reforms on restrictions of overseas-trained doctors, a new study shows.
A Deloitte Access Economics’ General Practitioner Workforce Report 2019, commissioned by Cornerstone Health, claims there will be a shortfall of nearly 9300 full-time GPs, representing about a quarter of the GP workforce, by 2030.
Cornerstone Health CEO Henry Bateman says there needs to be the right policy settings in place to encourage doctors to practise in areas of unmet need. Louise Kennerley
The deficiency of GPs will be most extreme in urban areas with a shortfall of more than 7500 full-time GPs in the next decade, due to restrictions on doctors trained overseas and a lack of Australian-trained graduates.
The issue will be compounded by higher demand for GP services due to the ageing population and immigration.
Cornerstone Health founder Henry Bateman told The Australian Financial Review that he found it increasingly difficult to recruit GPs in outer metropolitan areas.
“There needs to be the right policy settings and incentives in place to encourage doctors to practise in areas of unmet need," said Mr Bateman, whose father Dr Ed Bateman founded ASX-listed Primary Health Care (now called Healius).
Henry Bateman formerly ran Primary’s medical centre division but struck out on his own in 2017, and now has seven primary care facilities that are Medicare bulk-billed, in fast-growing urban areas such as Marsden Park, NSW and Cranbourne, Victoria.
“These outer metro suburbs are booming, but getting workforce to go there when there is not enough GPs is hard. Government needs to match the services to immigration growth,” he said.
Report author Lynne Pezzullo said one of the main factors behind the shortfall is the regulatory constraint that limits the number of overseas- trained doctors permitted to work in urban areas under the government’s Stronger Rural Health Strategy (SRHS).
“Our research found 68.1 per cent of GP services are currently demanded in urban areas, however only 62.4 per cent of GPs are in those areas. This will only get worse by 2030 as populations in those areas increase,” Ms Pezzullo said.
Mr Bateman said there is a gap in the market, and is calling for parity among industries.
“We need overseas GPs, just like overseas engineers work at [software group] Atlassian,” he said. “I’m calling for parity with other industries, and for government to look at the data. I’d love to have more Australian-trained GPs, but in the short to medium term we need to fill the gap between now and 2030.”
The Grattan Institute admonished the health insurers on Wednesday, and the think tank suggested the removal of most of the “sticks and carrots” aimed to encourage people to take up private health insurance.
Mr Bateman said a key way to address this issue is to keep people in the primary care system for as long as possible. By allowing GPs to be placed in the areas of need, and help manage chronic disease, this will alleviate pressure in public hospitals, and save costs for the community.
Specialist over-charging is driving young people out of the system.
Health cover is bleeding to death
He also noted that with the younger cohort of Australians dropping their health cover, it’s important they remain in conversation about their health with GPs.
“If you get people engaged in healthcare and looking after themselves early on … then they might look at having health cover later on when they get older. But this all comes from primary care,” he said.
Mr Bateman believes a modification to the Health Workforce Locator or to reinstate the District of Workforce maps which ensured that overseas-trained doctors were able to practise where they were needed most, would help address the supply issue.
The report also found the GP shortage is being compounded by a lack of Australian-trained graduates, and showed major demographic changes, such as a higher proportion of female GPs and delaying retirement, are set to affect the GP workforce.
Footnote : This was in the news recently. Dr Bateman has a vested interest in commissioning this report. His healthgroup needs overseas GPs to work there ( most local GPs would go for lower service fee places ie 30% or less and where there is private billing). Do your research eg Workforce data