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Fewer GPs as ACT bucks national trend

The number of doctors in the ACT is falling as Canberra continues to report the lowest rate of bulk-billing in the country.

The ACT was the only state or territory to report a decline in the number of working doctors between 2008 and 2012, according to a report issued by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The Medical Workforce 2012 report showed an increase in the number of full-time-equivalent doctors across all states and territories except the ACT, which recorded a decline from 488.2 to 456.3 full-time-equivalent medical practitioners per 100,000 people.

The new figures, which outline an ageing workforce older than the national average, coincide with government statistics showing that the capital's rate of bulk-billing is lagging at almost 30 per cent lower than the national average.

ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher declined to comment on the report.

ACT Health director-general Peggy Brown said the fall in the rate of doctors per population in the ACT may be due to registration changes.

Dr Brown said the introduction of national registration in 2010 meant doctors practicing in both the ACT and NSW could register in one state to work across jurisdictions, which could explain a drop for ACT-based registrations.

''We don't believe that the number of actual practitioners in the ACT has dropped,'' she said.

Dr Brown also acknowledged the ageing medical workforce within the capital, which increased from an average age of 44.2 years in 2008 to 46.1 years in 2012.

The percentage of working doctors aged over 55 years also increased from 20.7 per cent to 26 per cent over the four-year period.

Dr Brown said the government had been focusing on increasing junior doctor numbers to tackle impending retirements and the trend towards greater work/life balance, with employment figures rising from approximately 50 in 2007 to 96 in 2014.

''The bulk of those came from ANU, so they're home-grown,'' she said.

Australian Medical Association ACT branch president Andrew Miller described the supply of qualified practitioners in the capital as patchy, but said the shortage of GPs was ''not as real'' as Canberrans believed.

Dr Miller said there were concerns in the medical community over a lack of positions for interns and junior doctors and called on both the ACT and federal governments to provide further funding.

''We have to have vocational training positions here and that's going to involve some expense,'' he said. ''… There's going to have to be more money.''

Nationwide, the number of medical practitioners rose by more than 16 per cent over the four years to 2012, bringing the total registered number to 91,504.

The report follows statistics issued by the federal Health Department which show that the ACT has the lowest rate of bulk-billing in the country.

A total of 51.3 per cent of GPs bulk-billed in the ACT in the September quarter of 2012, compared to 86.5 per cent in NSW and a rate of 81.6 per cent nationally.

It represents a slight increase from the same period in 2008, when the rate was 49 per cent and an even greater improvement from the low of 43.3 per cent in the December quarter of 2010.

The total Medicare bulk-billing rate was also recorded as lower than the rest of the country at 64.9 per cent as of the September quarter in 2012.

The national rate was recorded at 76.8 per cent for the quarter, while the rate for the Northern Territory was listed at 84.7 per cent.


  • As Canberra has the highest average salary in the country, it is only appropriate they have the lowest bulk billing availability.

    Date and time
    January 24, 2014, 2:02AM
    • Dr Miller for some of us the GP shortage is very real indeed. it may be true that there are more GPs in large Corporate and similar type clinics where you can get 6 min consults and be bulkbilled. Smaller suburban clinics like ours can however not source any new full time doctors nor do we have the time or human resources to teach Registrars. Recruiting from overseas are prohibitively expensive and when we do infrequently find a suitably registered and qualified doctor who are already in Australia, at times even in Canberra, we cannot employ them as they cannot obtain Medicare provider numbers due to the restrictions by Medicare (note this has nothing to do with their registration as doctors - it is purely a racial discrimination based on their origin). This results in the doctors in small one and two doctor clinics just giving up and joining a large clinic despite the massive difference in the type of GP care that this often result in - not always but often to the patient's detriment

      Date and time
      January 24, 2014, 7:14AM
      • Thinus, I would like to correct you on your racial discrimination comment. I have previously worked in the Medicare space that deals with what you are referring to. It is all overseas trained doctors, irrespective of race. In other words, any doctor not trained in Australia or New Zealand is subject to those Medicare restrictions. Having said that, your comment apart from that phrase is totally accurate. The result is that us, as patients in the ACT, get a raw deal. When I moved here I went through 3 doctors before finding one who was half decent and was willing to listen to me rather than trying to get me out in 5 minutes, but she doesn't bulk bill and is also a suburban practice.

        Facts Please
        Date and time
        January 24, 2014, 8:45AM
      • The shortage of GPs seems to be real. When I first moved here a few years ago I couldn't get to see a GP because everyone I contacted had closed their books. So I went to the local Medical centre (which doesn't bulk bill) and wait 3 hours for my 6 minute consulation.

        When I got whooping cough both my wife and I went to this centre to get diagnosed. I went 4 times, she went 6. They kept saying it was asthma. That's 10 DIFFERENT doctors who couldn't diagnos whooping cough. A work colleague called her GP and begged for them to let me in. I was diagnosed within a minute of my first consultation with him.

        Peter for PM
        Date and time
        January 24, 2014, 9:13AM
      • Thinus
        Nice chip you have there.
        I assume you have hard evidence of your racial discrimination claims against Medicare?
        BTW what is your racial background?

        Glove Puppet
        Left Field
        Date and time
        January 24, 2014, 12:02PM
      • It is correct that any overseas trained doctor has this restriction. It inf act even applies to an Australian who has for instance obtained a medical degree anywhere else in the world. The reality is that in it's application it applies in most cases to people who come from other countries and it very rarely affects a person who was born in Australia
        Remember Racism does not always mean a discrimination based on skin colour - it is simply discriminating because your are a different ethnic group. Let's call it Xenophobia if we want to be technical.
        I have absolutely no problem if we want to check the credentials of foreign qualified doctors - make them sit exams and test them well - the problem is that they still cannot get access to a medicare Provider number in Canberra after that and this is preventing us from getting very good quality GPs here. They are instead told to go bush and spend a decade there before they can work in Canberra

        Date and time
        January 24, 2014, 12:18PM
      • Dear Glove puppet
        Yes I have evidence and if you had a look at Medicare's own webpages the rules I am referring to are plain for all to see - in just the last twelve months I had to turn a Burmese, Sri Lankan and South African trained doctor away - all are registered as doctors, one a highly qualified GP, after doing the Australian exams, yet cannot get a Provider Number in the ACT. I also suspect you already know my ethnic background as I do not hide behind a nickname and am easy to find on the Net
        No chip mate - just facts

        Date and time
        January 25, 2014, 5:58PM
    • Dr Miller

      It's a real concern as you sometimes have to wait days to see your own GP. A work colleague of mine yesterday who is not from Canberra was only mentioning yesterday to me he sometimes has to wait a week to see someone.

      Compared to elsewhere its appalling.

      A South African qualified Doctor I know can't get registration here in Australia unless they do a barrage of exams - the whole system is an absolute joke.

      If you need to see a specialist, again it can take an indefinite period of time as you know.

      The GPs I know work very hard to address the shortage working very long hours. Sometimes they have to operate uncomfortably in areas of speciality again because of the unavailability of skills in Canberra.

      Time for the AMA to wake up to themselves and consider alternatives to address this growing concern in the community.

      Date and time
      January 24, 2014, 8:54AM
      • Well, View, you've identified a number of problems, now how do you suggest they are solved? What sort of alternatives could the AMA possibly consider to address the lack of GPs in Canberra? If they do not want to come here, how can they be forced to do so? My son moved to Sydney some years ago and it took him months to be able to see a doctor in his local area - so what are the locations you are comparing Canberra to? Really, you can't just throw out negative comments without qualification or the suggestion of a solution.

        Date and time
        January 24, 2014, 11:05AM
      • Bronte - we're talking the wider Canberra area not a suburb in Sydney.

        The point made in my comment is AMA need to come up with solutions as they are better qualified and in a better position than all of us to solve the shortage of very hard working GPs in the Canberra region.

        Date and time
        January 25, 2014, 6:35PM
    Comments are now closed

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