It probably comes as no surprise (especially to them) that GPs are working harder than ever, according to the latest figures. Maybe that’s why more are becoming specialists.

Several reports were released recently which paint a clearer picture of how reliant Australians are on the health industry as the Australian population ages and chronic disease becomes more prevalent, and the migration of the medical profession.

Two by Sydney University’s Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health (BEACH) program [General Practice Activity in Australia 2015–16 and A decade of general practice activity 2006–07 to 2015–16] show GPs delivering millions more services including treatments, prescriptions, referrals, and tests than they did a decade ago.

In 2015-16, GPs managed 154 problems per 100 patient encounters compared to 149 per 100 in 2006-07.

Compared to 2006-07, GPs provided:

  • 31 million more prescriptions
  • 25 million more clinical treatments (eg: advice and counselling)
  • 10 million more procedures
  • 5 million more referrals to medical specialists
  • 5 million more to allied health services
  • 24 million more pathology tests/test battery orders
  • 6 million more imaging tests

AMA President Dr Michael Gannon said the numbers not only highlighted how important the sector was to Australia’s health and what “good value” it was, but the need to drop the “funding squeeze”.

He said if GP services were performed in other areas of the health system, they would cost a lot more.

“For example, GP services provided in a hospital emergency department would cost between $396 and $599 each, compared to the average cost of a GP visit of around $50,” he said.

“General practice is keeping the nation healthy and is good value for money, with Medicare spending on GP services only representing about six percent of total government health expenditure.

“Despite widespread acknowledgement that general practice needs to be strengthened … GPs are caught in a funding squeeze.

“The freeze on Medicare rebates and other funding cuts are poor policy that fails to recognise the value that general practice is delivering to our health system.

“While the AMA shares the vision for the government’s Health Care Home model, they have committed no new funding and simply expects GPs to deliver enhanced services for patients with no extra support.”

More specialised, more female clinicians

The last decade has also seen a shift toward a medical workforce with more specialist roles, according to a recent report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Medical Practitioner Workforce 2015, shows the supply of medical practitioners working in general practice (GPs) changed little between 2005 and 2015, ranging from 109 per 100,000 people in 2008 to 114 in 2015 (24,655 to 28,329 GPs).

This is in stark contrast to the supply of non-GP specialists which increased from 121 to 143 per 100,000 people between 2005 and 2015 (21,953 to 31,189 employed specialists), and the supply of specialists-in-training increased from 43.4 to 74.8 per 100,000 people (7,268 to 15,336 specialists-in-training).

AIHW spokesperson Dr Adrian Webster said while the supply of GPs is keeping pace with population growth, the number of medical practitioners working in, or training to take on, specialist roles is growing faster.

There were 29,269 non-GP specialists employed in clinical roles in 2015 (94% of the total). As in previous years, most (58%) were employed in one of the broad specialty groups of physician (22%), surgery (15%), radiology (6%), obstetrics and gynaecology (5%), paediatrics (5%) and pathology (4%).

A greater proportion of non-GP specialists in clinical roles were female in 2015 (29.5%, up from 20.9% in 2005) and a higher proportion of GPs were women (42.1% in 2015, up from 36.5% in 2005).

GPs had the highest proportion aged 55 or older (40.5%) of all clinician groups in 2015.