GP Shortages and the Australian Rural Health Crisis

05 March 2021 | Clinic Owners and Practice Managers | 3 minutes read

GP Shortages and the Australian Rural Health Crisis

Early last year, we discussed ‘The Deloitte Access Economics General Practitioner Workforce Report 2019’ at length in a blog post, highlighting the projected shortfall in the number of general practitioners (GPs) and the rising demand for healthcare services and medical practitioners serving rural areas in Australia.

According to the report, the GP deficit could be worse in urban areas by 2030, with a projected shortfall of 7,535 full-time GPs or 31.7 per cent, whilst regional areas could experience a deficit of 1,763 GPs or 12 per cent.

Right now, the country is already experiencing a massive shortage in GP numbers and medical services in general in the rural countryside. And while the ongoing shortage has been a long time coming and the subject of debate for some time now, the global pandemic has only served to underscore the problem.

The trouble with IMGs

The Australian healthcare system has typically depended on international medical graduates (IMGs) to supplement half of the country’s rural medical workforce. However, with the bureaucratic red tape that IMGs need to hurdle to be able to practice in Australia, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight for this problem.

It takes approximately 24 months for an IMG to be recruited and on-boarded for deployment to rural health facilities. Sometimes, an IMG could be required to come to the country while his application is under evaluation – a process that could take several weeks and render the doctor unemployed during the same period.

Even when the time-consuming process of bringing in or recruiting doctors trained abroad was already highlighted by the Federal Government as far back as 2012, the response from concerned agencies has been painfully slow, if not nonexistent.

Declining numbers – a worrying trend

But with the declining number of GP medical graduates, the shortage can only worsen. In fact, according to the Deloitte report, the number of new Australian trained GPs already decreased by about 20% since 2016.

In fact, Dr Michael Clements, the Rural Chair of The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), has already noted that the GP shortages in rural areas are ‘very clinically significant’ and that reforms in the process need to be dealt with urgently.

Our very own Martina Stanley talked about her firsthand experience (as a director at Alecto Australia) with numerous IMG recruitment challenges that continue to plague the system.

According to Martina, with the current difficulties IMGs are facing to be able to practice in the country, Alecto has no chance of filling the nearly 1,000 GP vacancies they have posted. Rural medical facilities are in dire need of GPs, but there simply aren’t any takers.

No hope on the horizon yet

It’s predicted that the problem will only worsen as demand continues to grow, whilst fewer and fewer GPs are available and willing to establish their practice in the rural areas.

Martina also said that a major dilemma among recruiters like Alecto is that no one seems to be listening to recruitment companies because of what is perceived to be vested interests.

However, she would rather talk and share her in-depth knowledge of and insights into the sector to help initiate policy changes which, ultimately, are the only solution to this rapidly escalating problem.

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