Pharmacists answer to GP shortfall issue

Forecasting a shortfall of GPs, Deloitte’s latest report highlights the need for pharmacists to take a greater role in healthcare, says Pharmacy Guild of Australia National President George Tambassis.

While the report, ‘General practitioner workforce report 2019’, looks ahead 10 years to 2030, the shortfall of GPs is noticeable from as early as 2020.

Based on the assumption urban and rural area GP numbers are in equilibrium in 2019, the report forecasts a deficit in full time employed (FTE) GPs will emerge by 2020 in both urban areas (5.7 per cent, 995 FTE GPs) and regional areas (2.9 per cent, 303 FTE GPs).

This deficit is expected to widen over the forecast period, growing to 31.7 per cent (7,535 FTE GPs) in urban areas and 12.7 per cent (1,763 FTE GPs) in regional areas.

“Deloitte predicts there will be a shortage of more than 9,000 GPs in the next 10 years,” Mr Tambassis said.

“Empowering pharmacists to take on a greater role in the healthcare system by doing things like giving more vaccinations, issuing repeat prescriptions for things like blood pressure and treating common ailments like asthma and migraine would relieve some of the pressure on already overworked GPs.”

Analysing the impact of the forecast GP shortage, Deloitte found a family of four living in cities will have eight fewer GP visits in 2030, and people living in regional areas will, on average, have about 20 fewer minutes with their GP per year – equivalent to a standard consultation lost every 12 months.

Victoria is expected to have the most severe shortage with a shortfall of almost 3,900 doctors, Queensland falls in the middle of the pack with a forecast shortfall of 1,507 GPs, and only the Northern Territory is expected to have more GPs in 2030 than it does now.

Examining the reasons for the forecast shortfall, the report points to a range of factors, including:

  • A greater number of deaths and retirements than the number of newly qualified registrars.
  • An ageing population driving up demand for GP consultations.
  • Limitations on the number of overseas trained doctors permitted to work in urban areas.

Writing the report’s forward, Henry Bateman, founder and CEO of Cornerstone Health, the report’s commissioning organisation, said: “The undersupply of GPs is also driven by a lack of Australian trained graduates and the recent policy change that has significantly restricted the access to overseas trained GPs.”

Mr Bateman says he believes “the right policy settings and incentives” should be put in place to encourage doctors to practise in areas of unmet need.

“It is critical that patients from these new urban hubs also have access to primary and preventative care, before they end up in hospital emergency departments,” he said.

Agreeing there is a need for action, Mr Tambassis repeated the Guild’s consistent call for change.

“We’ve been saying for some time Australians are waiting longer and paying more to see a GP,” he said. “Our health system just isn’t adapting as effectively as possible to our ageing and growing population.

“Deloitte’s report underlines why we need to make better use of pharmacists to help relieve some of the stresses and strains on our health system, just by using our training to the full.”

Overseas, the UK and Canada use pharmacists to treat common ailments such as asthma or migraines, issue repeat prescriptions for people requiring things like blood pressure medication, and administer more vaccines, Mr Tambassis added, with the Guild having long stated that doing the same in Australia would improve accessibility and affordability for Australian families.

“In countries such as the UK and Canada, pharmacists are playing a greater role in their healthcare systems, which has reduced strain on overworked GPs and overcrowded EDs, and made access easier and more affordable, while improving health outcomes,” he said.

“Pharmacists are already the most visited health professionals, helping Australians on more than 450 million occasions last year, so it makes sense to better use them. With Deloitte forecasting such a severe GP shortage, it highlights the need to better use resources already in our health system to improve affordability and accessibility for all Australians.”

The full Deloitte report can be downloaded here.

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