GP practices across Australia – including in outer metro areas – are struggling to meet patient demand and are concerned with the stress levels of GP and support staff. How many practices need to shut their doors due to a shortage of GPs, before the government takes notice? When will we stop blaming COVID for the shortage of GPs and recognise the real barriers to providing an adequate GP workforce?
Although COVID is a factor, the real drivers of GP shortages are a result of deliberate planning policies:
- Changes to the PEP Specialist program mean that qualified GPs no longer feel welcome in Australia. In the past 350-400 highly qualified specialists were successful in receiving the FRACGP, but in the past 12 months only 52 even bothered to apply. The process are clumsy, slow and bureaucratic – even for areas designated as Distribution Priority Areas (DPA). An application for GP working in a rural area is just as cumbersome and slow as for those working in outer metro.
- It is virtually impossible for non VR doctors to become GPs due to the administration of the PESCI examination process. Waiting for an exam date can take up to 12 months and the leading PESCI provider is known for the fact that they fail each doctor at least once. At present, doctors are taking up to 2 years to be able to start working under Level 1 supervision. This pool of doctors is vitally important to securing a future workforce, not to mention that they have made up most of the rural and after-hours workforce in General Practice for the past two decades.
- Currently, policies discriminate against GPs when compared with other medical specialties. Only GP applicants have to provide a Health Workforce Certificate to get a temporary working visa. Only GP applicants have to sit a PESCI exam to commence 12 months of supervised practice (internship). Only GP applicants have to deal with the complexity of 19AA and 19AB exemptions in order to practice.
- The doctors who want to work in outer metro or regional centres, aren’t allowed to and the doctors who are allowed to work there don’t want to. Changes to the DPA map and other 19AA and 19AB restrictions mean that bulk-billing practices in outer metro areas, not to mention rural locations, are finding it difficult to find doctors who are allowed to work in their practice.
Alecto has always spoken out on behalf of our GPs and practices, but all of us need to keep highlighting the challenges. We are constantly being faced with new challenges and hoops to jump through in order to get our practices some much-needed GPs.
Our Director Martina Stanley has been in contact with the Australian Doctor publication regularly and has been assisting in the background to highlight issues to journalists who are starting to focus on these issues. We applaud the writers and editors of this outlet for bringing attention to these problems that are in dire need of attention.
If you want to help to create awareness of the issues, try talking to your local Federal MP, talk to the media in your local area, and share your case study with us at Alecto and with others in the industry. People are starting to listen, and maybe that means the Federal Government will have to start listening as well.