GP waiting times to ‘blow out,’ says Guild

confused health professional

Around 800 workforce visas for doctors to work in primary care are set to be removed—and the Guild says pharmacists can help manage the extra burden

Reforms which will see 800 workforce visas removed for doctors in primary care is going to blow out waiting times even further and make it yet more difficult to see a GP, the Pharmacy Guild warns.

This is especially true in outer metro areas and disadvantaged suburbs, where health outcomes are already poorer, it notes.

According to an article in Australian Doctor, practices which are willing to sponsor international medical graduates will be subject to new requirements to get Health Workforce Certificates, which apply only to areas where there are ongoing workforce shortages, such as rural and remote areas.

Further, about 400 doctors each year who have been trained in Canada and the UK receive automatic recognition as fellows of the RACGP.

However, as of next month, they will no longer receive this recognition and will instead be forced to undertake additional training, the Guild warns, saying that this will “drastically” reduce the number of well-trained doctors coming into Australia through that system.

Martina Stanley, co-director of GP recruitment firm Alecto Australia, told Australian Doctor that some small GP practices will “go under” in the suburbs and other non-metropolitan areas.

“Places in locations like Blacktown in Sydney are saying they can’t see how they will survive. All of their doctors are from overseas as they’re the only doctors that are willing to work there,” Ms Stanley told the doctor publication.

“We already have seen announcements from a large number of clinics that they will no longer be able to provide after-hour services or will be closing much earlier than in the past.”

The need for pharmacists to work closer with GPs to relieve the burden is more apparent now than it ever has been, the Pharmacy Guild says.

“Worsening doctor shortages are only going to leave patients worse off,” says the Pharmacy Guild’s national president, George Tambassis.

“Allowing pharmacists to work more closely with GPs to treat common ailments will free up doctors to spend more time with their patients and treating complex issues.

“Particularly in regional and outer-suburban areas, which will be worst affected by growing GP shortages, it makes sense to allow pharmacists to offer more health services to meet the needs of their communities.

“Australia has fallen behind the UK and Canada. In those countries pharmacists are allowed to practise at their full scope to prescribe and treat a range of common ailments, which has improved access to health services for patients, reduced waiting times, and reduced costs.”

The comments follow last week’s launch of the Guild’s new policy paper, which calls for a greater role for pharmacists in the health care system, including full scope of practice.

In this week’s edition of Forefront, Guild interim executive director Pam Price also alluded to patients’ difficulties accessing GPs.

In researching the policy document, the Guild found that the Australian health system is struggling to adapt to our ageing and growing population, she wrote.

“The result is that Australian families often are frustrated by long GP wait times and also left facing increased out-of-pocket expenses.

“We also found allowing pharmacists to perform to their full scope in the health system – including treating common ailments, dispensing medication autonomously for stable and ongoing medical conditions, and administering vaccines – could relieve pressure on GPs and emergency departments, freeing them up to spend more time with patients.

“In recent years, more than half a million Australians did not visit a GP because the cost was too high.”

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