The Australian government is actively discouraging GPs from joining the Australian workforce and contributing to the current health crisis in ED departments, says Martina Stanley, Director at Alecto.
Barriers have been thrown up everywhere, but the biggest challenges are the Visas for GPs program and the PESCI for Non-VR GPs.
During a time when Australia is faced with a pandemic, ED departments are overflowing and GPs can barely keep up with a backlog of patients who put off seeing a GP last year – why isn’t something being done to remove some of these illogical barriers?
We are encouraging practice owners to speak out and make it known the challenges you are facing so we can try and advocate for the industry.
One local practice owner, Scott Vickers Willis, has written a letter to the RACGP to express the challenges faced by practice and their owners:
I am a multiple practice owner in Victoria. I write in relation to two clinics I own in the outer West of Melbourne: Hoppers Lane General Practice and Women’s Health Hub – approx. 25km from Melbourne’s CBD.
Over the past ten years, since opening my first practice, neither we, nor our recruiters, have had any applications from Australian GPs who are interested in working in our area. We hear from colleagues in the industry that this is consistent with the experience of other bulk billing practices in outer metropolitan areas which are not attractive to Australian GPs. We have trained many Australian GP’s through various University programs, but almost all want to work in the inner city.
We have around 25 GP’s and provide GP care to over 35,000 thousand patients each year with 2,500 approx. patient episodes each week. All except the original core GPs have come from overseas and have made it possible for us to provide this level of service to the community. Without them we could not have grown or survived.
As an Australian I am embarrassed to see how dysfunctional our system has been over the past 6-8 years and now it is at crisis level. I am forever apologising to very professional doctors for the red tape they have to endure. Overseas trained doctors are, by and large very skilled, have outstanding integrity and seek a better life in our fantastic country. But we treat them like dirt. We need to treat them with respect. It is worth considering the economic cost for Australian taxpayers training an Australian to become a General Practitioner, including primary, high school and university education. I suspect that the economic cost would be around $600k. When an overseas trained doctor seeks to work in Australia we must welcome them and work with them to enter our workforce as quickly as possible given they arrive trained and ready to contribute.
During the pandemic GP Clinic admin staff and clinical staff have had to deal with COVID risks daily and it has been difficult to be able to take a break. Now that the threat of COVID outbreaks are subsiding patients are coming back for their primary care like a Tsunami and our doctors are shouldering the burden of increased demand again. They are burnt out from the past 12 months and they need support. They need it urgently.
One way to manage this increased demand is to attract new doctors and grow our doctor base. However RACGP and the Federal Government seem to be doing everything to restrict the pool of doctors – when we need it most! There are many doctors in Australia right now (not needing to immigrate or require hotel quarantine etc) who cannot practice due to our processing inadequacies and particularly that first step – the lack of appointments for PESCI exams. I have spoken to others in the industry and we estimate there would be at least 700-1,000 overseas trained doctors in our community, driving Ubers and other low skilled work because they are unable to enter the system. Before the borders re-open early next year we have an opportunity to process these trained doctors who are already on our shores.
For example, I have a doctor who has had a job offer and been in Australia for 24 months (wife to one of my best doctors) and is still waiting to sit her PESCI after applying in February 2020. I am advised she can’t because she is based in Victoria and the exam is sat in South Australia and this restriction is due to COVID. She has no date to advise when this process will commence, no certainty. This makes no sense in our country. Victoria was locked down until around September 2020 and RACGP should have increased the number of prospective Victorian GP’s to sit a PESCI – given the border freeze through 2020. As the second largest state in Australia Victoria needs some acceleration due to a 12 month backlog of PESCI’s and therefore GP’s.
I read with interest in last weeks Federal budget that the Federal Government is providing incentives to the regional areas for GP’s. Where will these doctors come from if we do not increase the pool of doctors in Australia? Will long term RACGP Fellows move to Coober Pedy or Katherine? I doubt it. As explained above Australian trained GP’s have no interest in working Werribee, let alone Wilcannia or any other remote part of Australia. By and large the regional medical workforce has and will be made up of new Australian’s and many are all stuck in this demotivating quagmire of redtape. It wont matter how much money is thrown at this problem if we do not increase the overseas trained doctor base.
The other more intangible challenge that this avoidable restriction on workforce growth is creating is mental health and anxiety on the existing workforce due to burnout and being unable to satisfy patient demand. And of course the self esteem and wellbeing of very well trained skilled overseas trained doctors who lose the will and desire to work in Australia, due to the unnecessarily elongated process and red tape to work in our country.
I hope that the industry and the key players including RACGP and the Federal Government are able to recognise that an overseas trained doctor wanting to immigrate to this country is a social and economic gift that we should welcome with red carpet and efficiency, not red tape and complacency.
I would welcome dialogue and an understanding of the historical PESCI processing numbers for the past three years and likely numbers for the next two. We must work together to increase our medical workforce.