Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) leaders are visiting Alice Springs to meet with local GPs and discuss how to address the Territory’s GP shortage and improve patient health outcomes.
RACGP President Adj. Professor Karen Price and faculty Chairs will meet GP members on Monday 18th July, 2022 at an anniversary function celebrating 30 years of the RACGP’s Rural Faculty.
The RACGP President said access to GP care was a serious concern for communities in the Northern Territory.
“The GP shortage is an issue right across Australia, and it’s particularly bad for many rural and remote communities in the Northern Territory,” she said.
“Lack of access to general practice care has a very negative impact on people’s lives. Those living in rural and remote communities often have poorer health outcomes compared to people living in cities, including higher rates of chronic disease and more complex health needs. For example, the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data shows people living outside major cities have higher rates of diabetes, asthma and arthritis.*
“Preventable hospitalisations – which can be avoided if someone receives timely preventative healthcare and early disease management at a GP – are 2.6 times higher for people in very remote areas, 1.8 times higher in remote areas, and 1.3 times higher in outer regional areas.
“So, improving access to high quality general practice care is essential to improving the health and wellbeing of people in rural and remote communities. This is why the RACGP is continuing to urge the federal Government to properly fund general practice care and ensure all patients can access the care they need when they need it.
“It’s time to get serious about health funding reform, because everyone deserves access to high-quality and affordable care, no matter their postcode.
“One key reform that the RACGP has been urging the federal Government to implement to better support rural communities involves measures that encourage and support rural doctors to upskill, which will improve access to care.
“More support for culturally safe healthcare for Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people is also critical to close the gap and achieve health equality.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience a disease burden 2.3 times that of non-Indigenous people – this is shameful. And we know that culturally inappropriate services and the experience of racism is a key barrier to care for communities, which is why cultural competency training for health practitioners and services is so important.
“The RACGP fully supports the Uluru Statement of the Heart and Closing the Gap initiatives. We also acknowledge the vital importance of self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when it comes to closing the gap in health outcomes.
“We are also urging the Government to invest in longer consultations for complex cases – which would make a real difference for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities, because we know they are more likely to need these consultations due to higher rates of chronic health issues, and multimorbidity which requires more time to care.”
RACGP Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements said the Alice Springs visit was an opportunity to connect with GPs on the ground and hear their experiences.
“Nobody understands the challenges of healthcare in the Northern Territory more than those who working on the frontline caring for people in their community every day,” he said.
“As Australia’s peak body for general practice, representing four out of five rural GPs, the RACGP is perfectly placed to help tackle the GP workforce crisis by tapping into our members’ unique understanding of general practice care outside of major cities.
“Australia’s GP shortage has been a worsening issue for years, and there are many factors behind it. The workforce is ageing, and not enough medical graduates are choosing to enter specialist GP training to meet the rising demand for care. A Deloitte report forecast a staggering shortfall of 11,392 GPs by 2032, while at the same time demand for care is expected to increase across Australia by 38 per cent.**
“There is also increasing maldistribution of GPs, meaning some communities are disproportionately affected by a critical lack of GPs, particularly rural and regional communities, and some on urban fringes.
“The transition of the Australian General Practice Training program back to the specialist colleges on 1st February 2023, including RACGP, will allow us to reform Australia’s training system and start to improve the distribution of GPs for the long-term benefit of communities Australia-wide.
“The research shows GPs who do their training in a rural community, and get a taste of rural practice and life, often stay on living and working there. With the transition of GP training, we will ramp up promotion of a career in rural and remote general practice to medical students and junior doctors.
“However, boosting the number of medical students choosing to specialise in general practice requires action on multiple fronts. Foremost, the government must invest in our future GP workforce by boosting funding for general practice care to make it a more viable and appealing career choice. This is crucial if we are to ensure everyone in Australia has access to world class general practice care well into the future.”
The transition of GP training back to the general practice colleges, including the RACGP and the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM), was announced in October 2017 by then federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.
In April the RACGP released its blueprint for general practice training – Profession-led, Community-based Training – which aims to attract more graduates to become a GP and do their training in the communities that need them most.
The new training program will be nationally managed and supported, and locally delivered. The model for training is community-focused, and built on a foundation of high-quality medical educators, training managers, supervisors, and training sites.
Earlier this year, the RACGP released its election statement which called for a range of reforms to primary care to improve patient health outcomes, including measures to improve access to care in rural and remote Australia.
The election statement draws on the RACGP’s Vision for general practice and a sustainable healthcare system, which outlines a model of care that aims to address many of the nation’s long standing healthcare challenges. The economic benefits of implementing the Vision show that it is a sound return on investment.