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Australian Current Affairs

Australia’s supposed doctor shortage is ‘a myth’

Doctor Graphs AustraliaThe number of full-time GPs billing on Medicare has surged at more than twice the rate of both population growth and the increase in Medicare payments back to doctors.

The findings, in a paper to be released today by Monash University demographer Bob Birrell, point to a major “over-servicing” problem and explode the theory that much of Australia has a doctor shortage.

Dr Birrell has used recently released 2011-12 Medicare billing data to show that the number of full-time equivalent GPs grew from 18,091 in 2006-07 to 21,119 in 2011-12 – an increase of 17 per cent at the same time that the population grew by 7.8 per cent and commonwealth payments to GPs increased by 8 per cent.

Dr Birrell argues that – with a few exceptions, mainly in remote areas – the notion of a shortage of GPs is “wrong”.

“The level of GP services in both metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas is well above that considered by medical manpower authorities in the past to be adequate,” he says in the paper.

“This over-servicing is showing up in high bulk-billing rates. By 2011-12 these were more than 80 per cent in both metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas.”

Dr Birrell says another indicator of the change is the number of GP services billed per person per year in Australia. This increased from 4.9 in 2004-05 to 5.7 in 2011-12.

He warns that the over-servicing is about to get worse.

The number of domestic medical graduates has almost doubled from 1287 in 2004 to 2507 in 2011. About a third are going into general practice, he says.

The number of fully registered Australian-trained GPs who will enter the workforce will double to about 1000 a year over the next few years.

“Most will locate in metropolitan areas because they can practise wherever they choose,” Dr Birrell said. “In so doing, they will add to the over-servicing problem. They can do so because patients who are bulk-billed face no financial constraint on their consumption of GP services and GPs make the judgements about what services are needed.”

Dr Birrell said the federal government needed to rethink its policies around GP registration.

In 2011-12, the commonwealth government paid out $6.7 billion to GPs billing on Medicare and for GP incentive programs, up from $6.2bn in 2006-07.

The 2011-12 payment amounted to an average of $317,000 for each of the 21,119 full-time-equivalent GPs billing on Medicare in 2011-12.

“The emphasis of government medical manpower policy should switch to ensuring that the GPs serve where they are needed,” he argues.

He suggests the government limit the places where GPs are permitted to practise through its controls over the issuance of Medicare provider numbers.

“All that would be required to limit over-servicing in metropolitan or any other locations would be to not issue additional provider numbers in such areas until the oversupply situation ends.”

He argues against the practice of bringing overseas doctors into Australia to service areas where shortages were being experienced.

“Surveys indicate that regional communities require more medical service per person than do metropolitan communities.

“The demands on GPs’ skills are also greater in these communities because GPs are often required to provide procedural services in local hospitals as well as GP clinical services. Regional GPs also do not have the same access to specialist back-up as do GPs in metropolitan areas. It would be far preferable if the impending surge of highly trained and accredited local GP registrars served in shortage areas when they complete their training.”

He reveals the numbers being sponsored on 457 visas is surging, reaching 2663 in 2011-12.

“This reliance is now built into the business model of some corporate employers,” he says.

“One of these, Tristar, had established 40 clinics in regional Australia by 2012, all heavily reliant on the employment of IMGs on 457 visas.”

Source: The Australian – “Over-serviced: national doctor shortage ‘a myth'”

About Craig Hill

Social Justice Campaigner, Writer, Teacher and Business Consultant. Lived in China and USA. Dealing with disability. My articles have been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and many other international publications. Please consider donating, to support our social justice campaign, by clicking on the "Donations Page" button in the top menu.


3 thoughts on “Australia’s supposed doctor shortage is ‘a myth’

  1. There is a local trend, here in upstate NY, for GPs (called Primary Care Physicians) to leave private practice and work in the system as Hospital Doctors. They are paid by the hospital and no longer have all the paperwork and regulations that private practice demands. It is one way for them to avoid the red tape and low reimbursements of Medicare. The only saving grace is that there are just so many Hospital Doctors that can be hired.

    Posted by Waldo "Wally" Tomosky | March 2, 2013, 23:21
  2. BALONEY….If Australia’s supposed doctor shortage is ‘a myth’, I would kindly invite the P.M. and all PARROTS/PUPPETS politicians from both sites of the Spectrum,Table, or Wing/s, and let them get an appointment to the local medical center at least, in the country region, any state, or region across Australia……JERKS .

    Posted by Old Fart | March 3, 2013, 18:29


  1. Pingback: Australia’s population could soar to 40 million by 2050 because of temporary entry migrants | Craig Hill - March 28, 2013

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