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Chapter 2: General practice access

2.2 GP workforce

2.2.1 Location

GPs are the most accessible medical professionals in Australia, and provide the backbone of primary healthcare. There are more full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs in all remoteness areas than any other primary healthcare professional, with the exception of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers in very remote areas, and registered nurses.33,34

Nationally, the average number of FTE GPs per 100,000 population is 117.7.34 Figure 16 shows that many states have less than this national average number of GPs, with the ACT and the Northern Territory having the lowest number (Figure 16).

Nationally, the number of FTE GPs per 100,000 population has increased by 4% since 2017. However, Tasmania and the Northern Territory have seen much lower rates of increase, and the number of FTE GPs per 100,000 for  the Tasmanian population has declined by 0.4% since 2018.34

Figure 16. The GP-to-patient ratio is lowest in the ACT, Northern Territory, Tasmania and Western Australia

The GP-to-patient ratio is lowest in the ACT, Northern Territory, Tasmania and Western Australia

Measure: Full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs per 100,000 population, by state/territory, 2019
Base: Total number of GPs in 2019 (head count), n = 37,472
Data source: Department of Health. GP workforce statistics – 2014 to 2019. Canberra: DoH, 2020.
Please note that this data cannot be compared to the data included in the 2019 General Practice: Health of the Nation report, due to changes in the way the Department of Health reports GP workforce data.

The concentration of GPs working in major cities is higher than the national average, whereas regional, rural and remote areas all have below average numbers (Figure 17).

Over the past five years, the proportion of the GP workforce choosing to work in rural and remote areas has not changed significantly. Since 2014, the proportion of GPs working in major cities has increased by 1.3%, to 74.5% in 2019. The proportion of GPs working in remote and very remote areas has declined by 0.1% over the same period.34

Patient experience data shows that there are longer waits to see a GP for patients outside major cities. While patients in major cities report that in 75% of cases they were able to see a GP within 24 hours for their most recent need for urgent care, this figure drops to 64% for patients in outer-regional, remote and very remote areas (Figure 18).

A small proportion of patients (1.2%) in outer‑regional, remote and very remote areas report that they needed to but did not see a GP at all during the previous 12 months. This is a higher rate than reported by patients in major cities (0.6%).31 Compared to the previous year, each region saw slight increases in reported wait times for a patient’s most recent urgent care episode.31

Figure 17. There are fewer GPs in remote locations than in major cities of Australia

There are fewer GPs in remote locations than in major cities of Australia

Measure: Full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs per 100,000 population, by remoteness, 2019
Base: Total number of GPs in 2019 (head count), n = 37,472
Data source: Department of Health. GP workforce statistics – 2014 to 2019. Canberra: DoH, 2020.
Please note that this data cannot be compared to the data included in the 2019 General Practice: Health of the Nation report, due to changes in the way the Department of Health reports GP workforce data.

Figure 18. Patients in outer-regional, remote and very remote areas report longer waits to see a GP*

Patients in outer-regional, remote and very remote areas report longer waits to see a GP

*Due to rounding, figures do not add up to 100%
Measure: Patient responses to the question ‘Thinking about the most recent time for urgent medical care, how long after you made the appointment were you seen by the GP?’, split by patient location remoteness
Base: Total survey responses, n = 28,719
Data source: Australian Bureau of Statistics. Patient experiences in Australia: Summary of findings, 2018–19. Cat. no. 4839.0. Canberra: ABS, 2019.

2.2.2 Place of work

Figure 19. GPs work predominantly in group practices

GPs work predominantly in group practices

*‘Other’ responses included after-hours service, COVID-19-related setting, community healthcare service, private hospital, and unspecified
Measure: GP responses to the question ‘In which of the following settings have you practised in the past month?’
Base: Total survey respondents, n = 1782
Source: EY Sweeney, RACGP GP Survey, May 2020.

2.2.3 Demographics

Gender

There are more male GPs than female GPs (Figure 20). The proportion of the GP workforce that is female is slowly increasing, and has grown by 4% since 2014.34

As in previous years, female GPs are more likely to work part time than their male colleagues (Figure 21).

Both male and female GPs report lower overall hours of work compared to the previous year (median of 37 hours, compared to 38 hours in 2017).32 Further, the mean consultation length for female GPs is 2.2 minutes longer than the mean consultation length for male GPs.32 This combination of factors could mean a larger head count of GPs will be needed in future to provide the same level of patient access.

Figure 20. There are more male GPs than female GPs in the workforce

There are more male GPs than female GPs in the workforce

Measure: GP head count and FTE, by gender, 2019
Base: Total number of GPs in 2019 (head count), n = 37,472
Data source: Department of Health. GP workforce statistics – 2014 to 2019. Canberra: DoH, 2020.
Please note that this data cannot be compared to the data included in the 2019 General Practice: Health of the Nation report, due to changes in the way the Department of Health reports GP workforce data.

Figure 21. Female GPs are more likely to work part time

Female GPs are more likely to work part time

Measure: Mean score of GP responses to question ‘How many GPs work in your current main practice?’, split by gender
Base: Total survey respondents, n = 3077
Data source: University of Melbourne, Monash University. Medicine in Australia: Balancing Employment and Life (MABEL). Data from MABEL Wave 11 survey. Melbourne: MABEL, 2020.

Age

While the GP workforce is distributed across age groups, over one-third (37%) of GPs are aged ≥55 years (Figure 22).

Figure 22. GPs are distributed across age groups

GPs are distributed across age groups

Measure: GP FTE, by GP age, 2018–19
Base: Total number of FTE GPs in 2018–19, n = 29,510.3
Data source: Productivity Commission. Report on government services 2020. Canberra: Productivity Commission, 2020.
Please note that this data cannot be compared to the data included in the 2019 General Practice: Health of the Nation report, due to changes in the way the Department of Health reports GP workforce data.

Country of basic qualification

In 2019, 52% of the FTE GP workforce had obtained their basic qualification in a country other than Australia or New Zealand (Figure 23). This proportion increased from 40% of full‑time service equivalent GPs in 2009–10, and 32% in 2004–05.35

The majority of vocationally registered and non-vocationally registered GPs in Australia obtained their basic qualifications overseas (Figure 23).

Figure 23. A higher proportion of GPs attained their basic qualification overseas than in Australia or New Zealand

A higher proportion of GPs attained their basic qualification overseas than in Australia or New Zealand

Measure: Proportion of FTE GPs, by place of basic qualification and GP category, 2019
Base: Total number of GPs in 2019 (head count), n = 37,472
Data source: Department of Health. Health Workforce Division. Unpublished data provided to the RACGP, July 2020.
Please note that due to changes in the way the Department of Health reports GP workforce data, this information cannot be compared to data included in previous editions of the Health of the Nation report.

2.2.4 General practice teams

General practices and their teams provide more than 160 million services each year.1 In addition to GPs, practices may employ any number of other healthcare professionals to ensure that patients have access to comprehensive healthcare, coordinated by the general practice team.

General practices and their teams provide more than 160 million services each year1

Figure 24. The number of GPs at each practice varies*

The number of GPs at each practice varies

*12% of respondents worked in a practice with no full-time GPs, and 8% of respondents worked in a practice with no part-time GPs.
Measure: GP responses to the question ‘Including yourself, typically how many individual GPs work in a full-time or part-time capacity at your main practice?’
Base: Responses to survey question, n = 1782
Source: EY Sweeney, RACGP GP Survey, May 2020.

Figure 25. Patients can access a range of other services when they visit their GP

Patients can access a range of other services when they visit their GP

Measure: GP responses to the question ‘What other individual health workers or professionals are employed by or work in your main practice?’
Base: Responses to survey question, n = 1782
Source: EY Sweeney, RACGP GP Survey, May 2020.

Members of a general practice team report that they experienced the effects of COVID-19 in different ways.

All staff are faced with concerns for their own safety, as well as the safety of their loved ones, which they balanced with the need to do their job and provide care to patients.

Practice owners and practice managers take on significant responsibility to ensure that safe processes and procedures are in place to protect their staff. Early in the pandemic, constantly changing guidelines around appropriate use of PPE, new Medicare item numbers, COVID-19 testing criteria and social distancing were all added stressors for an already difficult time.

The role of receptionists changed due to the pandemic. Receptionists rely on practice owners and practice managers to assist them to implement safe practices in the workplace. Many receptionists effectively provide health and safety advice to patients and the community, including quasi-triage and referrals to appropriate services. Member feedback has highlighted that receptionists face significant concerns about contracting COVID-19 due to their close proximity to unwell patients in clinic waiting rooms.

In a poll of more than 1000 primary care nurses about the impact of COVID-19 on their employment, almost one-third said their paid hours had been reduced, and 7% had lost their jobs.36



 
General practice staff faced concerns for their own safety, and the safety of their loved ones, but continued to provide care to patients

2.2.5 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander primary healthcare

Organisations providing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander primary health services employ about 4500 FTE health staff, nearly half (47%) of whom identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.38

Nurses and midwives are the most common type of health worker, followed by Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander health workers and practitioners, and GPs (Figure 26).

These services had contact with 483,000 clients to provide 3.6 million episodes of care in 2017–18.39 This increased to almost 500,000 clients and 3.7 million episodes of care in 2018–19.38

Figure 26. GPs are an important part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander primary health services

GPs are an important part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander primary health services

Measure: Number of FTE health workers employed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander primary health services in 2018–19
Data source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Indigenous primary health care: Results from the OSR and nKPI collections. Cat. no. IHW 227. Canberra: AIHW, 2020.

While there are more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander GPs than other medical specialists, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people remain significantly under‑represented in the health workforce (Figure 27). This potentially contributes to reduced access to health services for the broader Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.

The future Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander general practice workforce is discussed in section 6.5.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are under-represented in the health workforce

Almost one in five Australian General Practice Training (AGPT) Program registrars report they were currently training or had already completed a training post in an Aboriginal Medical Service or Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health is the second most common area in which registrars undertake extended skills, advanced rural skills or advanced specialised training.40

Figure 27. More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical graduates choose general practice than other specialties

More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical graduates choose general practice than other specialties

Measure: Number of registered practitioners employed in their field by profession and Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander status, Australia, 2015
Data source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework (HPF) report 2017. Cat. no. IHW 194. Canberra: AIHW, 2018.
 

  • 1. Department of Health. Annual Medicare statistics: Financial year 1984–85 to 2019–20. Canberra: DoH, 2020.
  • 24. RACGP Poll – Telehealth. May 2020. Unpublished.
  • 31. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Patient experience in Australia: Summary of findings, 2015–16 to 2018–19. Canberra: ABS, 2019.
  • 32. University of Melbourne, Monash University. Medicine in Australia: Balancing Employment and Life (MABEL). MABEL Wave 11 survey. Melbourne: MABEL, 2020.
  • 33. Department of Health. Health workforce factsheets 2018. Canberra: DoH, 2019.
  • 34. Department of Health. GP workforce statistics 2014 to 2019. Canberra: DoH, 2020.
  • 35. Department of Health. GP workforce statistics: 2001–02 to 2017–18. Canberra: DoH, 2018.
  • 36. Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association. COVID-19 PulseCheck Survey, National data, 30 March to 19 April 2020.
  • 37. Department of Health. Health Workforce Dataset: Professions and primary speciality by year by workforce status and Australian born Indigenous 2013–2018. Canberra: DoH, 2019 [Accessed 15 August 2020].
  • 38. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Indigenous primary healthcare: Results from the OSR and nKPI collections. Canberra: AIHW, 2020.
  • 39. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health organisations: Online services report – key results 2017–18. Cat. no. IHW 212. Canberra: AIHW, 2019.
  • 40. Radloff A, Clarke L, Matthews D. Australian General Practice Training Program: National report on the 2019 National Registrar Survey. Australian Council for Educational Research, 2019 [Accessed 15 August 2020].

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