13 October 2022

RACGP: GPs quitting or reducing hours a sign of things to come

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has warned that more and more GPs will reduce their hours or leave the profession entirely unless general practice care receives a shot in the arm.

It comes following an AusDoc survey which found:

·    28% of respondents said they had already quit the profession, had plans to find a new career or planned to retire within 12 months

·    43% said they would be reducing their hours

When asked for their main reason would be for retiring, reducing hours, or leaving general practice - poor remuneration was listed alongside burnout as the main reason.

The RACGP’s recently released General Practice: Health of the Nation 2022 report also found that more GPs are moving away from full-time work hours, with 61% of GPs working fewer than 40 hours compared to 56% just five years ago. More GPs are indicating that they will retire from the profession earlier than ever before, and less than half of GPs would recommend their profession as a career to junior colleagues due to issues such as burnout, unsustainable workload, mounting administrative and regulatory burdens, chronic underfunding, and workforce shortages.

RACGP President Adj. Professor Karen Price said that without urgent action more and more GPs would leave general practice or cut their hours.

“The AusDoc survey results and our own Health of the Nation survey results are hardly surprising, and it is a sign of things to come,” she said.

“General practice is a wonderfully rewarding profession which I thoroughly enjoy. You get to know your patients over the course of their life, and you are a valued member of your community. However, the problem is that more needs to be done to make sure this profession is adequately supported and valued.

“Boosting investment in general practice care so that Medicare rebates actually reflect the cost of providing high-quality care is vital. This would put general practice on a more sustainable, long-term footing and stop the exodus from the profession. On top of that, it would help attract more future doctors to general practice rather than other specialities – an essential step in ensuring Australia does not run out of GPs.”

Adj. Professor Karen Price said that alleviating burnout must be a priority.

“Many GPs are stressed out and have had enough,” she said.

“Burnout has six areas of focus for interventions - workload, control, reward, community, fairness, and values. We are establishing successful peer communities that are growing by the day, but the other five areas have been neglected by government and that is entirely predictable. 

“In the AusDoc survey, burnout is the second most commonly cited reason for retiring, leaving general practice, or reducing hours. Similarly, our own recent Health of the Nation report found that almost three-quarters of GPs reported experiencing feelings of burnout over the past 12 months. We are managing the fallout from the pandemic, including helping people who have delayed or avoided screenings and consults as well as patients with mental health concerns. All of this comes on top of the existing cracks in the general practice sector including a lack of investment in general practice.

“There are many steps government can take to give GPs a helping hand and help reduce burnout. For starters, let’s make sure that when crisis strikes GPs and general practice teams are front of mind and given proper consideration. Right throughout the pandemic, we were not properly consulted and involved in decisions such as changes to the vaccine rollout and treated as an after-thought. We found out about changes to vaccine eligibility from our patients and unfortunately many people took out their frustrations on general practice teams. This took a massive toll that is still being felt by many GPs and general practice teams and it can’t happen again.

“Also, government need to let GPs get on with the job of being GPs. At the moment, we spend an inordinate amount of time on paperwork and there is always the looming threat of a compliance action hanging over our heads. Two-thirds of GPs surveyed for our Health of the Nation report identified ‘understanding and adhering to regulatory changes’ as a challenge and more than three-quarters of respondents said that ensuring compliance with Medicare takes time away from actually caring for their patients. So, let’s cut the red tape because GPs are spending too much time and energy worrying about paperwork box-ticking rather than their patients.

“On top of all that, we must scrap mandatory notification laws which stop GPs – including those experiencing burnout - from seeking healthcare. GPs are people too, and there should not be any barriers in place barring them from finding help from a GP when they need it. Government must have our backs, otherwise more and more GPs will throw their hands in the air and quit or significantly reduce their hours.”

The RACGP’s Vision for general practice and a sustainable healthcare system outlines the urgent need to restructure the healthcare system into one that provides the right care for patients at the right time and in the right place, and that is sustainably funded into the future.

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