19 September 2019


State of general practice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has launched General Practice: Health of the Nation, its annual health check-up on general practice.

RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon presented the report to some of Australia’s key decision-makers, including Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, Shadow Health Minister Chris Bowen and Greens leader Richard Di Natale, at Parliament House this morning.

The report highlights the unique experiences for GPs working in Aboriginal Medical Services or Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations. 

“These GPs tell us there are numerous benefits to working in this environment; for example, working as part of a multidisciplinary team,” Dr Nespolon said.

“Well-resourced general practice teams often feature non-GP health professionals and that includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioners and Aboriginal health workers.”

The report found that 7% of GPs said their practice employed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioners.

“These practitioners play a vital role ensuring culturally responsive and high-quality healthcare for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples right across Australia,” Dr Nespolon said

Associate Professor Peter O’Mara, Chair of RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, said ensuring a culturally safe healthcare experience for patients is something to which doctors and practice teams must dedicate a lot of time and effort.

“It is worth getting this right,” he said. “Doctors who are trained to deliver effective culturally safe healthcare to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are better doctors for everyone.”

Improving access to healthcare is critical to address sustained health disparities between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians. On this front, the 2019 General Practice: Health of the Nation report contains good news, particularly when bulk-billing rates are taken into account.

“Nine in 10 GPs working in Aboriginal Medical Services or Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations report bulk billing patients,” Dr Nespolon said.

“This figure has fallen from 98% in 2018, but remains an encouraging sign in terms of patient access.”

The report is clear that GPs working in Aboriginal Medical Services or Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations can face challenging circumstances.

“Two in five of these GPs report difficulties sourcing or retaining high-quality staff,” Dr Nespolon said.

The report also contains a positive view of the long-term futures of GPs in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services.

“Seventy per cent of GPs working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health intend to work for at least another10 years, while only 18% plan to retire in the next five years,” Dr Nespolon said.

“That is really encouraging news. Many doctors currently working in the field of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health are in it for the long-run and won’t be retiring any time soon.

“They will take that knowledge with them into the future and improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ health outcomes for years to come.”

Other key highlights of the report reveal that:

  • patients talk to their GP about mental health more than any other issue
  • GPs are avoiding or delaying seeking their own healthcare for a range of issues, in part due to concerns about being reported to regulatory bodies
  • out-of-pocket costs are increasing at double the consumer price index, with the average patient cost now higher than the rebate for a standard GP consultation.
  • 14% of those delaying a GP visit do so because of cost concerns
  • there is a decline in the proportion of services bulk billed outside of major cities
  • more and more medical graduates are choosing other medical specialities over general practice, in part because a large amount of GP work is unfunded
  • the costs of providing care are increasing year on year and not being matched through appropriate health funding. Medicare rebates remain the top priority health policy issue for GPs.

You can read the report here.


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