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Tuesday, 25 February 2014
Page: 864


Mr PORTER (Pearce) (21:25): I rise to speak on a fast-developing issue in my home state. It is already affecting the people in the seat of Pearce and, before too long, it will become a very pressing issue for Western Australia generally. Simply put, the issue is this: there is an existing shortage of GPs in Western Australia. This shortage is presenting a very real problem for many communities and this shortage will, at a not-too-distant future point, become a very, very serious problem. I do not pretend that this is a simple problem or a problem new to this recently elected coalition government, but this is an opportunity to put on record some of the known dimensions of the problem.

There is very significant evidence of a medical workforce shortage in Western Australia and that the shortage is rapidly growing more serious. The most recent statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and from the Bureau of Statistics show that the medical workforce growth in Western Australia is not even close to keeping pace with population growth. Current estimates by the Western Australian Department of Health show a deficit in 2013 of 500 general practitioners. Western Australia has the highest rate of population growth in Australia. The growth rate in the 10 years to 2011 was 24 per cent compared to the national figure of 15 per cent. Indeed, many outer suburban areas of Greater Perth grew at rates greater than 200 per cent. Currently, the annual growth rate is 3.4 per cent; over 7,000 people are added to WA's population every month. That is based on ABS data from 2013. That means around 1,750 people are being added to Western Australia's population per week.

The recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report Medical workforce 2011 shows that WA currently has the lowest level EFT of doctors per head of population at 348 doctors per 100,000 people compared with 381 doctors per 100,000 people for Australia as a whole. Perhaps the most telling data set is this: the number of medical students starting training in WA per year is the lowest in Australia at 13.8 per 100,000 of population. That same data set is 21 per 100,000 in Queensland, 22 per 100,000 in South Australia and 23 per 100,000 in Tasmania. The AIHW report states:

Between 2007 and 2011 the number of employed medical practitioners increased in all jurisdictions, except Western Australia.

It goes on:

The FTE rate increased in all jurisdictions, except in Western Australia, where it declined from 383.1 to 348.8 FTE medical practitioners per 100,000 population, with the increase in both the number of medical practitioners and the hours they worked not keeping pace with the increase in population.

The Health Workforce Australia report Health workforce 2025 shows that if Western Australia is to become self-sufficient in doctors, an additional 1,672 doctors—and that is over and above those projected from recent but modest growth in medical school places—will need to be practising by 2025. As well as a severe shortage, which is soon to become critical, there is a maldistribution of doctor supply geographically. In rural Western Australia, 53 per cent of practitioners are overseas trained, and the continuing importation of overseas trained doctors is certainly not the long-term solution to a real supply problem. In rural and outer metropolitan WA, primary care GPs are particularly undersupplied. Retiring practitioners in these areas are not being replaced. Poorer health status in these areas is in part attributable to the difficulty in finding doctors.

The western suburbs of Perth have four times the number of GPs per head of population than the eastern suburbs. Our views about western and eastern suburbs and their demographic profiles are reversed where I come from when compared to those which you might be used to, Madam Speaker. I do not suggest this problem is unknown, and the coalition's early efforts are laudable. The government has committed to doubling the practice incentive payment for teaching medical students. The government is investing $40 million in up to 100 additional medical internships. The government has committed to provide 175 grants for rural and remote general practices to expand facilities. Again, it is not a simple problem, but I finally and prudently note that the previous coalition government, over the full course of its time in office, invested in nine new medical schools which resulted in the increase in medical students now graduating.

House adjourned at 21:30