It’s getting harder and harder to find a GP – these doctors explain why | Panda Anku

Doctors warn that the current funding regime for GPs is unsustainable and patients should expect to pay more to see a GP if they can find a doctor when they need one.

They say the shortage of doctors and nurses is likely to worsen as many GPs feel burned out from their heavy workloads.

At her clinic in Campbellfield, in far north Melbourne, Umber Rind last month began charging patients a deductible for a consultation.

“We’re the only essential service that’s expected to discount everyone and we’d love to do it, but we just can’t do it anymore,” she said.

The clinic now charges patients $30.90 for a standard 15-minute consultation. You also receive a $39.10 rebate from the federal government per standard consultation. That rebate rose 1.6 percent in July after being frozen for more than a decade.

dr  Wearing a headscarf and khaki jacket over a black top, Rind sits in her consulting room.
dr Rind says a 1.6 percent increase in the federal rebate in July doesn’t cover rising costs.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)

dr Rind said a 1.6 percent increase didn’t even come close to covering the other cost increases her practice had to deal with — such as nurses’ wages, rent and utility bills.

She said the decision to end bulk billing led to some difficult conversations with patients.

“I’m still going to charge for people who are at risk and things like that, but I think as general practitioners, we shouldn’t be the ones shouldering that burden,” she said.

dr Rind said she thinks the clinic could be less busy once it starts charging. But it is not.

“Our phones keep ringing, we have patients who come from far away, even from small rural towns,” she said.

The reason for this is the lack of doctors, especially in the metropolitan areas and in the countryside.

Challenges in finding nurses and doctors

In West Brunswick, closer to town, Deb Wilson co-owns another bustling practice.

She said her clinic advertised for a new nurse at the practice, but a nationwide shortage meant the position was vacant.

She said it means GPs have more paperwork and phone calls to do and less time to see patients.

dr  Wearing glasses and a white doctor's coat, Wilson is standing in front of the entrance to her clinic.
according to dr Wilson because of the labor shortage, doctors have less time to spend with patients.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)

“I think that’s the other thing about family doctors, the amount of work outside of the patient’s face-to-face time,” she said.

She called on governments to do more to address the root causes of disease, including poverty and lack of housing, which lead patients to eventually end up in hospital.

“We have a universal insurance system, but not a universal healthcare system.”

Her colleague John Stanton has been a GP for 47 years and is retiring soon. He fears that not enough young general practitioners will come.

“When I graduated in 1972, about 60 percent of medical graduates went into general medicine. Right now it’s about 16 percent,” he said.

dr  Stanton is wearing sunglasses and a blue scrubs and is standing on the sidewalk in front of his clinic.
dr Stanton is concerned that there aren’t enough medical graduates going into general practice.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)

“So there aren’t any younger people coming in to take the place of people like me who are close to retirement.

“Unfortunately, the GP practice is not seen as a point of contact for new doctors, it is not financially rewarding, it does not have the status of a specialist doctor working in a hospital.

“That’s very sad.”

It’s difficult to keep doctors in the outskirts

Alastair Stark co-owned his medical practice in Melton in the far west for 15 years before selling it last year.

He said making a mass-billed primary care practice financially viable in the outer suburbs was difficult.

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