Doctors play a pivotal role in the delivery of medical care in Australia. Having an adequate supply of highly trained health professionals is vital, not only to the health of the population, but also Australia’s social and economic well-being.
Although the health workforce has been growing an increase in the demand for health services has put pressure on the sector. One of the main contributors to this pressure is Australia's changing demography, particularly an ageing population and an ageing health workforce.
In 2011, there were 70,200 medical practitioners (doctors), identified by the Census of Population and Housing, currently working in Australia, which includes 43,400 general practitioners (GPs) and 25,400 specialist medical practitioners (specialists). The number of GPs and specialists has increased in the last ten years, from 32,000 and 15,900 respectively in 2001.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported elderly to be visiting their GP more regularly. Of people aged 85 years and over who saw a GP, nearly one in three (30.6%) saw a GP on twelve or more occasions in a 12 month period, compared with just 6.0% of people aged 15–24.
Interestingly, perception of wait times to see a GP varied. Older people were less likely to claim that they had to wait. People aged 65 years and over reported the smallest proportion of people (11.9%) waiting longer than they felt acceptable. Of those aged 15 – 65 who saw a GP in the previous 12 months, 20.0% of people waited longer than they felt was acceptable to get an appointment with a GP. Females were more likely to report waiting longer than acceptable compared with males (22.0% compared with 17.7%). Overall, the large majority of people believe their wait time was satisfactory. In an industry where demand is high, supply is low and an emergency can arrive at the doorstep at any time, this is no small achievement.