A shortage of GPs across Australia adds to the health crisis

Vast areas of regional and rural Australia are seeing a severe shortage of general practitioners (GPs), leaving frontline health care in what has been described by experts as a “dangerous state”.

Australian Medical Assistance teams in Wilcannia providing door-to-door COVID-19 vaccinations and testing. (Source: Wilcannia On The Baaka Darling River Facebook)

An unprecedented decline in the supply of doctors has left many cities and regional centers across the country without any GPs. It is not unusual for one doctor to meet the needs of thousands of people.

That’s forcing people to seek care from emergency departments at regional hospitals that are already overstretched by years of funding cuts, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and now the flu.

Speaking of Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), Richard Colbran of the New South Wales (NSW) Rural GPs Network in the country’s most populous state said: “The reality is that there is not a town in rural NSW that is not at risk of not being able to stay sustainable primary care now. For every GP leaving the workforce there will need to be three to replace them to keep up with demand. After COVID-19, floods and fires, GPs have never felt a time when the system is in such a dangerous state. They are exhausted.”

Colbran said at least 600 rural GP proceduralists, who also work as doctors in local hospitals, have left their positions in the past 10 years. There are now fewer than 200 GP proceduralists working in rural NSW, with authorities concerned that number could dwindle to less than 100 within the decade.

Dubbo, in central NSW, has recently seen the closure of three of its twelve general practices. Dr Ai-Vee Chua, a local GP told SMH “I’ve worked in rural NSW for over 20 years and the shortages we’re seeing now are the worst they’ve ever been, especially with the population growing.”

Dr Chua said patients were being forced to go to emergency departments because “they have no other choice”.

In Queensland, Kingaroy in the south-east of the state is seeing a GP shortage so severe that waiting lists for local GPs are 8 weeks. There are only seven medical clinics for the city of over ten thousand people, and the practices are not accepting new patients.

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