JOURNALIST: So what does the government need to do to attract more people into general practices? Does there need to be some kind of incentive program offered?
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER:
Fundamentally, we need to strengthen Medicare after nine years of cuts and neglect.
Patients tell us it's never been harder to see a doctor and GPs tell us, they've never been more worried about the viability of their practice.
So we've got to put more money and more respect into Medicare. And that's why Strengthening Medicare was the centrepiece of our health policy platform. I'm working with doctors groups, every month right now finalising the recommendations for our $750 million dollar investment - better care for patients, deeper relationships between the general practice and their patients, more team based care and things like that.
But I do want to sit down with medical students and understand what is motivating them, as they weigh up their life choices and their career choices, after 6 years of medical training. Why are so few of them choosing a general practice?
I mean, I can make my educated guesses after reading briefs and talking to the heads of professionals, but it's important that we talk to young people and understand what might shift the dial in their mind as they weigh up career choices.
JOURNALIST: Is there red tape you'd like to see cut quickly?
BUTLER: There is red tape that I think is slowing down our ability to recruit GPs and nurses from overseas. There's no doubt about that. And health ministers and frankly, even National Cabinet last week was focused on that. We're making those those inroads right now. But we're also focused on making sure that we train enough local doctors.
Right now only about one out of every eight medical graduates is choosing general practice as a career. Not too long ago, that figure was four out of every eight. So it's hard to see a doctor right now, it's going to be impossibly hard if we're not able to reverse that trend.
So yes, recruiting doctors from overseas is a critical part of a sustainable health care system in Australia. It always has been, particularly in rural Australia. But we've also got to focus on training our own medical graduates into a specialised general practice career.
JOURNALIST: So far, what are the reasons you think people aren't choosing that career path? And how dire is it going to get?
BUTLER: Fundamentally, I think it is about the level of respect that governments have been showing for general practice. We've seen nine years and cuts and neglect to Medicare, in particular, a six year freeze on the rebate, which really impacted the financial viability of general practice businesses, but also the incomes of general practitioners.
So while while the wages of hospital specialists were rising, essentially general practice wages were frozen, and that that's obviously a factor.
But also, there are some basic things I think we should look at. GPs in training currently need to move through multiple employers during their period of six years of training. So they find it difficult to accrue leave, they particularly find it difficult to accrue parental leave, they're at a time where they'll be thinking about raising a family, for example.
So can we make sure some of those industrial barriers are resolved as well we've got some of those pilots in place now for single employer models, so that those GPs in training can accrue the sort of leave entitlements that their brothers and sisters in the hospital system accrue. We want to expand that model.