By Catriona May, University of Melbourne
The number of GPs in Australia is falling in real terms, as more and more medical graduates choose specialisations over general practice.
A major report from the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research has found that, while the number of new GPs in Australia is growing relatively slowly, for every new GP there are nearly ten new specialists.
Professor Anthony Scott, who leads the team behind the report, says the trend could prove expensive in the long run, and has implications for patient care.
“If we don’t have enough GPs, patients will end up in hospital more than they should,” he says. “If patients can’t get in to see their GP they end up in the emergency department, where they’ll be seen by specialists.
“Specialists tend to do more procedures, which means more expense for the public purse. Potentially, patients may also end up receiving unnecessary treatments.”
The ANZ-Melbourne Institute Health Sector Report is the first major health check of general practice in Australia. It uses data collected through Medicare and the Institute’s Medicine in Australia: Balancing Employment and Life (MABEL) survey, which has been running for 10 years and includes data from over 10,000 doctors.
The results suggest general practice is still relatively unattractive to medical graduates, says Professor Scott.
How Australia is losing the health fight
“Money does matter,” he says. “Specialists are paid two-to-three times what most GPs are, and that’s the route junior doctors want to take. Often it is those who can’t become specialists that move into general practice.
“Unfortunately, it’s seen as second fiddle to specialisation, in terms of reputation and earnings.”
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This story first appeared in Melbourne University’s Pursuit website.