Doctor Numbers Rise but Need for Better Distribution

A new report showing a major increase in the number of doctors working in Australia demonstrates successive Government policies over the past 20 years have been working.

Page last updated: 24 August 2016

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24 August 2016

A new report showing a major increase in the number of doctors working in Australia demonstrates successive Government policies over the past 20 years have been working, the Assistant Minister for Rural Health, Dr David Gillespie said today.

Dr Gillespie said the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) Medical Practitioners 2015 report, released today, showed that the geographic spread of doctors between city and country has greatly improved; however, complex challenges in the distribution of our health workforce still remain.

“The overall number of medical practitioners is continuing to increase and access to GPs in regional areas is now comparable to access in metropolitan areas,” Dr Gillespie said.

“Both of these trends are great news for our health care system and for Australians and have been achieved after years of investment by successive governments beginning with major health workforce reforms introduced by the former Howard Government.

“To address the shortage of doctors in regional Australia, in 1997 conditions were applied that meant that overseas trained doctors coming to Australia would be placed in regional, rural and remote locations for a set period of time in order to eventually gain medical registration in Australia.

“This scheme acknowledged that people living in regional, rural and remote Australia were disadvantaged by lack of access to local GPs and specialists.

“These arrangements have been addressing this shortage in rural and regional areas, and while the need to rely on overseas trained doctors is not as great as it once was, they have been, and continue to be, an important part of the health workforce.

“This is backed up by the Australia’s Future Health Workforce – Doctors Report, which was approved for public release by COAG Health Ministers in late 2014, provided projections to 2030 using registration and survey data.

“The report favoured a ‘most likely’ scenario based on long range forecasts and productivity gains over the projection period.

“Under this scenario an oversupply of 7,052 doctors is projected by 2030.

“While that report predicts a national oversupply of doctors, it also acknowledges that in rural and remote areas there are disparities in supply and that certain medical specialties are not in balance.

“Similarly today’s Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report confirms that we continue to face a significant health workforce issue in terms of the distribution of medical specialists other than GPs.

“Many people in rural and regional communities must still travel for long distances and experience lengthy delays in order to see a specialist for diagnosis or treatment. This must change.”

Dr Gillespie, who is a former medical specialist from a regional town, said the Coalition Government had provided a range of incentives to encourage the recruitment and retention of medical practitioners in rural and remote areas coupled with undergraduate education and training programs, post graduate training programs and a range of incentives all promoting distribution.

“Existing supports and infrastructures will need to work more cohesively, in a more integrated fashion, to address the issues facing rural Australian,” Dr Gillespie said.

“I see the role of the soon to be appointed National Rural Health Commissioner as crucial to assisting with health workforce in regional areas. The Commissioner will work with rural, regional and remote communities, the health sector, universities, specialist training colleges and all levels of government to improve rural health,” Dr Gillespie said.

“Encouraging GPs, specialists, nurses and allied health professionals to live and work in regional and rural Australia will be one of my greatest challenges as Assistant Minister for Rural Health, and one that I am most passionate about,” Dr Gillespie said.

Media contact: Kay McNiece, 0412 132 585 or Neil Branch, 0412 258 449

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