Australia’s GP shortage is compounding the health crisis

Wide swaths of regional and rural Australia are experiencing acute shortages of general practitioners (GPs), leaving frontline health care in what experts have described as a “dangerous state”.

Australian medical aid teams in Wilcannia offering door-to-door COVID-19 vaccinations and testing. (Source: Wilcania On The Baaka Darling River Facebook)

An unprecedented drop in the supply of doctors has left many cities and regional centers across the country without a single doctor. It is not unusual for one doctor to serve the needs of thousands of people.

That’s forcing people to seek help from emergency rooms at regional hospitals, already overburdened 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 GP Network in the country’s most populous state said: “The reality is there is not a town in rural NSW that is not at risk of being in able to maintain viable primary care at this time. 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 bushfires, GPs have never felt a time when the system was in such a dangerous state. They are exhausted.”

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

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

Dr Chua said patients were forced to go to emergency departments because they “had no other option”.

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

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