Doctors and medical students are calling for urgent funding and Medicare changes to prevent a shortage of 11,000 general practitioners over the next decade.
Doctor shortages are plaguing rural communities and increasing gap fees – the difference between what GPs charge and what Medicare covers – are making it harder for Australians to afford health care.
Student doctor Jasmine Davis says doctors in the bush are understaffed and underfunded, making it harder to train students on rural placements.
“When students are on placement with general practitioners that don’t have adequate funding, they’re just not having the time or the energy to be able to teach adequately,” she told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.
Australian Medical Association vice president Danielle McMullen says it will be harder to access GPs, hospitals and specialists if the skills shortage is not addressed.
“Our hospital system will continue to be under even more pressure and that logjam and ambulance ramping will just get worse,” Dr McMullen said.
The association says more needs to be done to address the fact only one in seven final-year medical students consider becoming a GP.
Curriculum, placement opportunities and training pathways were all covered at a meeting with the student association, health minister and his opposition counterpart.
“The pipeline into medicine is a long one, it takes many years to train a GP,” Dr McMullen said.
“It means the time to act is now, we can’t afford to wait.”
Opposition health spokeswoman Anne Ruston said the meeting discussed ways to entice medical students to study general practice.
It canvassed ways to expose students to more practical experiences through placements as well as for hands-on learning alongside academic work.
“The shortage of GPs in Australia is a serious issue that is already affecting the entire health system and will continue into the future if this issue is not properly addressed,” Senator Ruston told AAP.
She said the sector needed certainty, support and sustainable solutions.
Ahead of the meeting, Health Minister Mark Butler said Medicare needed to be strengthened to make the profession more viable.
“Patients tell us it’s never been harder to see a doctor and GPs tell us they’ve never been more worried,” he said.
“We’ve got to put more money and more respect into Medicare.”