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More doctors and nurses [and] Strengthening Medicare: boosting our medical workforce.

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MEDIA RELEASE Minister for Health and Ageing

Tony Abbott MHR

12 January 2006 ABB003/06

More doctors and nurses

The number of qualified doctors and nurses has significantly increased during the past two years as a result of Commonwealth Government initiatives.

Under the Strengthening Medicare program, the government pledged to put an extra 1,500 doctors and 1,600 nurses into general practice by June 2007.

Since Strengthening Medicare began: • Approximately 750 general practices have begun to employ nurses. • There are 480 additional students in university medical schools. • An extra 189 doctors are GP registrars. • There are 549 more overseas-trained doctors practising in Australia. • There are 1,860 temporary resident doctors who have accessed the new four-year visa,

making them more likely to stay.

The government is also making better use of the existing health workforce by including, for the first time, nurses working in general practice and allied health professionals in the Medicare system.

Under the new measures, the total number of medical graduates from Australian universities will increase from 1,300 a year now to 2,100 a year in 2011.

Three out of four Australians are now bulk billed for GP consultations. Seven out of ten people living in regional Australia are now bulk billed. More than four out of five children and people over 65 are now bulk billed, thanks to Strengthening Medicare.

A detailed progress report on implementation of these measures is attached.

Media contact: Kate Miranda, 0417 425 227

Strengthening Medicare - Boosting our Medical Workforce

Two year progress report

More Australian-trained doctors

Commitment • Increase the number of places for medical students by 234 in 2004, rising to 246 per year from 2005.

Progress • All 234 new places for medical students in 2004 and 246 new places in 2005 were filled. All of these students have committed, through a bonding scheme, to work for six years after their graduation in places that are short of doctors in their specialty.

Total new medical students to date: 480.

• With these new places, the number of medical school places across the tertiary sector has been increased by more than 30 per cent since 2000. The new places supported the opening of new medical schools in Queensland, Western Australia and the ACT, as well as increasing the number of places available at existing medical schools in other states.

• An additional 189 doctors are training to become GPs. A further six GPs have re-entered the workforce through training programs, with another seven currently in training.

• More even distribution of GPs. The More Doctors for Outer Metropolitan Areas program which began in March 2003 has far exceeded its target, with more than 240 doctors moving (or about to move) from relatively well-supplied areas to areas of workforce shortage. In addition, 357 GP Registrars have participated in this program by undertaking six-month training placements in areas of workforce shortage.

More overseas-trained doctors

Commitment • Increase the number of appropriately qualified overseas-trained doctors working in Australia by 725 by 2007, through international recruitment strategies, reduced red tape in approval processes and changes to immigration arrangements to allow them to

stay longer or obtain permanent residency.


• There are an additional 2,409 overseas-trained doctors working (or about to start) in Australia as a result of Strengthening Medicare measures. Some of these doctors are permanent and others are on four-year temporary visas.

• Sixteen medical recruitment agencies have been contracted to assist in recruitment of overseas-trained doctors to areas of shortage.

• The recruitment program has resulted in 257 overseas-trained doctors being placed in districts of workforce shortage. Of these, 198 are GPs and 59 are specialists.

• Another 88 overseas-trained doctors have signed employment contracts to take up positions shortly, bringing the total of new recruits under these measures so far to 345.

• Since May 2004, 204 medical practitioners (separate to the 88 previously mentioned) have been granted visas under the General Skilled Migration Program as a result of the inclusion of medical practitioners on the Skilled Occupations List for preferential migration treatment. These doctors must work in areas of workforce shortage for at least ten years.

• More than 1,860 doctors on temporary resident visas have taken up the chance to get visas of more than two years, since the maximum was extended to four years in late 2003, making it more likely they will stay in Australia.

Additional support for GPs in areas of greatest need

• 2,870 doctors in rural and remote areas had received rural retention payments totalling $104.5 million.

• The Training for Rural and Remote Procedural GPs Program provides grants to GPs who do procedural work to enable them to undertake two weeks of training per annum. At 30 September 2005, a total of 1,187 payments, worth $4.7 million, had been made to 809 doctors.

• By November 2005, Practice Incentives Program (PIP) GP Procedural Payments totalling approximately $5.6 million had been made for services provided by about 750 GPs.

• At 30 September 2005, there were 248 non-vocationally recognised medical practitioners providing services under the MedicarePlus for Other Medical Practitioners (OMPs) Program. This program provides access to the higher A1 Medicare rebate for services provided in areas of workforce shortage by eligible pre-1996 non-vocationally recognised medical practitioners.

• Since 1996, rural doctor numbers have increased by more than 20 per cent, including an 11.5 per cent increase in the last three years. Increases have occurred in nearly all parts of rural and remote Australia.

More nurses in general practice


• 457 additional full-time practice nurses funded through grants to general practices in urban areas of workforce shortage.

• New Medicare Items for wound management and immunisation services provided by nurses working in general practice, to reduce workloads on GPs and patient waiting times. This will support around 1,150 full time practice nurses to free up the equivalent of 160 GPs.

Progress • By November 2005, a total of 604 metropolitan general practices had taken up Strengthening Medicare practice nurse incentive grants. At the same time, 1,094 rural and regional practices were receiving grants through the ongoing rural nurse program.

• This equates to around 1,700 practices now receiving grants to employ nurses, a rise of more than 750 since May 2003.

• As at 31 October 2005, more than 4.5 million Medicare claims (representing benefits of more than $43 million) had been received for immunisation and wound management services provided by practice nurses.

• Since 1 January 2005, a Medicare rebate has been available in rural and remote areas where practice nurses take a Pap smear. More than 11,000 claims had been received by 30 November 2005.

Better Access to Allied Health Workers

Commitment • The initiative allows people with chronic conditions and complex needs who are being managed by their GP under an Enhanced Primary Care plan (EPC) access to Medicare rebates for allied health services. The new allied health measure will allow

people on care plans to get Medicare rebates for up to five allied health consultations a year - to a maximum of $230 per year.

Progress • Under the initiative, about 26,000 allied health professionals (such as physiotherapists, dietitians, Aboriginal health workers, chiropractors, osteopaths, occupational therapists, physiologists) are registered with Medicare to work with GPs,

including more than 600 in the rural and regional areas. More than 12,000 dentists are also registered to provide dental care.

• Uptake is progressing steadily. To the end of September 2005, about 121,000 patients had received more than 374,000 allied health services under the measure.

Better Access to Medical Care for Residents of Aged Care Homes

Commitment • Funding for GPs and Divisions of General Practice to establish panels to work with aged care homes to assist with quality improvement and care of residents.

• A new Medicare Item to enable GPs to undertake Comprehensive Medical Assessments (CMA) of aged care home residents.

Progress • All Divisions of General Practice have panels in operation. Nationally, as at 31 March 2005, there were 169 panels operating, with 870 GP members.

• More than 1,100 out of a total of 3,029 aged care homes in Australia (including multi-purpose services) are currently participating.

• As at November 2005, a total of 37,348 CMA items had been claimed.