Sunday, November 29, 2009

Doctor shortages across New England

I see from the Newcastle Herald that complaints continue about shortages of GPs in the Hunter.

Charlton Federal MP Greg Combet blamed 12 years of "poor workforce planning" by the former Howard government for a national shortage of general practitioners. "The Rudd Government is taking steps to turn this situation around and here in the Hunter there has been an increase in the number of GP training places this year," Mr Combet said.

The doctor shortage problem is not just a Hunter issue. With a very few exceptions in coastal areas, doctor shortages can be found across New England and seem to be getting worse.

There is some truth in Mr Combet's suggestion that poor work force planning under the Howard Government contributed to the problem.

Dr Wooldridge, federal health minister in the Howard Government from 1996 to 200,1 actually concluded that there were too many GPs and that this was leading to problems of over-servicing. The number of places at universities were cut, while it was made harder to get a full practicing certificate with access to medicare. In retrospect, this has to be one of the most stupid Government decisions on record.

My own sister-in-law who completed medicine at Newcastle during this time chose to opt out from general practice. It had become too hard. Instead, she splits her time between working as a doctor on cruise ships, then working as a casual doctor in hospitals during the other half of the year.

However, the problem is deeper than Howard Government mistakes because it links to broader systemic problems. I will write a little more on this in a later post.

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