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The Australian Government believes it has a solution for the future of Australia:  Australian trained GPs will meet all the needs of all communities while the need for Overseas Trained Doctors will disappear.  I think the government might be believing what they wish was true rather than looking at the realities of the current workforce.

I would like to hear your views (email me by clicking here), but here is why I don’t think that will happen:

  1. In spite of the increased numbers of Australian trained GPs (on top of a large proportion of Overseas Trained Doctors), “the number of FTE GPs increased by just 1.6%, from 112 to 114 per 100,000” in the last ten years.
  2. The GP shortage is going unnoticed because the overall number of medical practitioners is rising sharply. During the same period, specialist numbers rose by 18%. That is more than ten times the pace of GP growth. This masks the GP situation because other medical practitioners are starting to find it more difficult to find meaningful employment.
  3. Australia has the highest population growth of any OECD (developed) country in the world with an average of 3.2 percent per annum.  There will be an ongoing expectation of good medical care and improved life expectancy and quality of life and therefore more demand for primary health care services.
  4. Australian GPs are choosing to work in the best suburbs and prefer to work in mixed billing practices.  At Alecto Australia, we have not had one single application from an Australian trained GP for any of the western suburbs of Melbourne or Sydney in the past five years.  The population growth is highest in the growth corridors on the outskirts of the cities, but Australian doctors don’t live there.
  5. At present average 40-45% of the rural workforce and an undisclosed percentage of the metropolitan GP workforce have been trained overseas. A range of current government policies are designed to make it more difficult for GPs from overseas to join the Australian workforce. This is already resulting in decreased numbers of IMGs arriving in Australia and the numbers will continue to decrease.

If you do the basic maths, it doesn’t add up to a strong workforce pipeline:  Even if the growth in Australian GPs doubles (to say 3.2%), how will this workforce replace approximately 30% of the workforce (currently from overseas) as well as another 30% of GPs who are likely to retire in the next 15 years?

Even if the growth in Australian GPs doubles how will this workforce replace approximately 30% of the workforce as well as another 30% of GPs who are likely to retire in the next 15 years?

There will be solutions, but they will need to come from other sources.  The current cohort of medical students is not likely to meet the needs of rural communities – let alone the metropolitan growth corridors exploding in several major cities. Thankfully, history tells us that solutions usually come from the most unexpected places. Maybe your GP in 2030 will be powered by AI or some other technology solution will provide the answers we clearly don’t have today?

We would like to hear your thoughts on the GP shortage and workforce issues. Email us at [email protected]


Commentary by Martina Stanley