There’s nothing new about the latest concern over the rising demand for GP services and the concurrent lack of practitioners available to meet it.
In fact, the problem was flagged more than two years ago in a report by Deloitte Access Economics for Cornerstone Health Pty Ltd, which found that there will be a 37.5% increase in the demand for GP services between 2019 and 2030 and a shortfall of 9,298 full-time GPs or 24.7% of the GP workforce.
The General Practitioner Workforce Report 2019 made the issue clear to see and no one has convincingly refuted it since.

Perhaps it took a change of Australian government to bring the issue back to the table, raised this time by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (which welcomed the then-Opposition’s plan to invest $970 million in general practice care in communities across Australia).
The College has added some figures of its own, for example only 1394 medical graduates applied to do GP training in the latest intake, a 30 per cent drop from almost 2000 applications in 2017.
‘One of the determinants of the shortfall,’ Deloitte’s said, ‘comes about because of limitations on the number of overseas trained doctors permitted to work in urban areas. The diversion of overseas trained doctors to rural, remote and regional areas will have unintended consequences for patients’ access to healthcare in urban areas.’
It seems Canberra can’t get it right, whatever it encourages.
‘We are at serious risk of running out of GPs,’ said RACGP president Dr Karen Price.
‘Young graduate doctors have so many choices, but it is not attractive to them to pursue a career in general practice.’
The number of young doctors choosing to specialise in general practice has fallen to its lowest level in more than five years, a trend doctors warn will push primary care further towards the brink of collapse.
Dr Price noted that COVID-19 had put the brakes on overseas doctors applying for training but the number of applications submitted to the college has been declining for years.
‘We have a big workforce issue and general practice has suffered. The system is on the verge of collapse because of a lack of investment in primary care,’ she said.
Various reasons are suggested for the problem, including Medicare cuts that push GPs to practise “faster medicine” or charge a gap fee, which families on the poverty line can’t afford.
Another problem, some say, is the lack of GPs teaching at universities, resulting in general practice often being portrayed poorly during medical school and hospital training.
However, a federal health department spokesperson said while COVID-19 had affected the arrival of international doctors, overall numbers have not fallen significantly, adding that, ‘The Australian General Practice Training program provides funding of over $200 million every year to support high quality training for GP registrars.’


Photo by Hush Naidoo Jade Photography on Unsplash