Warning we won't escape GP shortage

NORTHERN RIVERS residents will struggle to find a local GP 20 years from now unless the system to attract and employ more general practitioners to the region changes, a health meeting in Lismore was warned yesterday.

Speaking at a meeting of health care professionals, New Zealand professor, brain injury expert and the Head of the University of Auckland's School of Medicine Des Gorman, described the Australian health system as a 'joke' and warned immediate action was needed to fix the GP shortage.

“We expect a doubling in the health budget in the next 20 to 30 years and if we keep going how we are, with fewer taxpayers, we're in trouble,” Prof Gorman said.

The key factor creating a shortage in local GPs, according to Prof Gorman, is the lack of students and graduates wanting to serve in general practice.

“Out of my students only one-in-10 want to be a GP,” he said.

“Between 1998 and 2006 in America, graduates who went on to become GPs dropped by half. We should care about this, as this is where we are heading if we don't change – that's our future.

“We need to increase the status of GPs, and to do that we need to firstly change the perception within the general practice community. For the last 30 years they have been undermined and undervalued, so why would people choose that as a career.”

Prof Gorman produced data from the US showing the gap between how many GPs were needed and how many were in practice was astounding, and the gap was being filled by overseas-trained doctors.

“This concerns us, as the very people they are trying to recruit are the kind of people we are trying to keep,” Prof Gorman said.

However, he said Australia was more likely to hold on to its general practitioners, as opposed to other countries, because we imported doctors, but didn't export them out to the global community.

Prof Gorman said the crisis in funding for the Australian health system was moving so quickly government would not have the chance to hide from it any more.

“Coming to a crisis point may force some political courage to start looking at the problem,” he said.

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