GPs are not ‘self-serving’ – we are desperate

Karen Price

11/03/2022 4:40:20 PM

The issues around attracting doctors to general practice are long-term, complex and need to be carefully managed. The last thing we need is yet another attack on GPs, writes Dr Karen Price.

A female GP holding her head in her hands.
A number of GPs have reported experiencing burnout during the pandemic, leading some to take time off work.

The pandemic has been tough on everyone.
Trust me, as a specialty that conducts more consultations related to mental health than any other ailment, GPs know how badly many people have been affected by this once-in-a-lifetime event.
To suggest otherwise or to infer that we are so blinded by self-interest that we are willing to disregard these deeply personal interactions to simply further our own agenda is disingenuous in the extreme and, I’m sure to many, incredibly offensive.
Actions speak louder than words, and for the past two years and nearly three months GPs have outperformed all expectations.
We have put ourselves on the line by continuing to show up to work and treat patients face-to-face, despite the personal risk and the potential impact on our loved ones.
We have done this with full knowledge that in many cases the PPE we have at our disposal, which we have paid for out of our own pockets, is of a lesser standard than even the hospital administration staff down the road enjoy free of charge.
Not only that, we have volunteered to provide help in disaster zones, staring down fire, battling through floods and helping those in need, both in the moment and also after the cameras and emergency crews have left.
So, to see one of our own – a young, female medical student no less – publicly berated and accused of being selfish and out of touch with everyday Australians hurt.
We are already in serious danger of running out of general practitioners and continued insults like those delivered earlier this week do nothing to help the profession, nor the government.
In response, I would like to make our position crystal clear – GPs are not looking for a handout. We are not looking to benefit at the expense of others who are also suffering from the consequences of the pandemic.
We are looking for genuine and constructive engagement from our elected officials, who have a social contract with the Australian people, to care for them as best as they can.
We want our politicians to have a full understanding of the very complex issues at hand so that we can work together on possible solutions.
A person’s postcode should not dictate whether or not they can receive adequate healthcare, nor should their skin colour or how much savings they have in their bank account.
That is why we have Medicare, and why so many GPs have decided to take on a role that, while incredibly rewarding on a personal level, is perceived to be not as ‘prestigious’ and definitely not as well remunerated as other medical specialties.
Speaking personally, general practice is a fantastic profession, filled with incredible people and we are so proud of it.
But a healthcare system propped up by sacrifice and goodwill is not sustainable.
Don’t take my word for it – all you need to do is look at the dwindling numbers of medical graduates choosing this amazing area of medicine as their chosen specialty.
Look at the number of GPs who are experiencing burnout, who have already had to take time away from the job they love and patients they care for, simply to survive.
The evidence is there for all to see and has been presented time and again, not just by the RACGP, but also by the AMA, ACRRM, the corporate medical centres, the PHNs, practice nurses, and the Consumer Health Forum of Australia.
It is the same message – general practice needs reform and it needs investment.
We are the bedrock of healthcare, diagnosing nearly all conditions, participating in ongoing management, and coordinating care among a byzantine system characterised by complexity and limited resources.
For us to continue helping people, including those most marginalised in society, by keeping them well and stopping them from costly and traumatic trips to the hospital, that needs to be acknowledged and supported by those in a position to enact change.
The bottom line is that if we can’t attract more people to general practice, it is not just GPs who will be affected, it is the entire healthcare system. It’s everyone.
Patients will suffer, healthcare costs will continue to spiral, and politicians will have to explain to their constituents why they are worse off despite all the advancements modern medicine continues to make.
Advocating more support for GPs is not about self-interest. It’s about returning healthcare to the people.
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A.Prof Christopher David Hogan   12/03/2022 12:44:57 AM

Very eloquently stated.
We want nothing less & nothing more than justice.

Dr Nicholas John Brodie Page   12/03/2022 8:08:04 AM

For those of us who haven’t been following recent remarks from out of touch politicians Senator Hughes (Twitter @hollieahughes) said that GPs were “self-serving” for trying to improve conditions for medical practice in outer suburban areas where there is a workforce shortage.

Dr Aletia Vivienne Johnson   12/03/2022 8:27:37 AM

And exactly WHAT is wrong with being self serving? I’m a professional, not a charity. It makes me sad that, even today, female doctors, especially medical students, are still expected to ask for less than everyone else or be accused of being ‘selfish’, to not value our own worth. And it’s even sadder that that sacrifice is still expected of us. Grow up, Australia. Pay us what we’re worth. 😡

Dr Henry Arthur Berenson   12/03/2022 9:00:18 AM

Perhaps if the RACGP stopped using emotive language and just presented the evidence, you wouldn't get an emotive response from a skilled politician. If we appear to be begging, negotiation. ends. The bottom line is we give up our independence when we compete for the Medicare dollar.

Dr Ben Lloyd Balzer   12/03/2022 9:02:22 AM

The Senator should have pointed out that GP's are often the hardest working person in the whole town. And that no other professional would work an 80 hour week for so little!

Dr Ayon Ajit Guha   12/03/2022 10:59:35 AM

Very well put together. Thanks Dr. Karen Price. It is time that GPs stop this bulk billing madness. Bulk billing has more or less financially devalued us and we are rated lower than specialists because we are free via bulk billing.
You want future generations to become GPs: do not bulk bill. Charge a fee and give them financial security. To a young doctor I would say become a specialist: at least you will get paid better and you will have a better work/life balance than a country GP.

Dr Naseem J. Chowdhury   12/03/2022 12:57:19 PM

General Practice should not be treated as another half brother in the medical fraternity. We need policies not politicians. We need our voice heard. Timely article with a story as old as time.

Dr Nirzari Mukul Pandit   12/03/2022 1:42:08 PM

Well said!

Dr Douglas Wallace McKenzie   12/03/2022 3:12:52 PM

Unfortunately Government and many patients do not see general practice as a profession, but more like a service industry. Bulk billing has encouraged patients to seek what they want.

Dr Oliver Frank   12/03/2022 5:42:06 PM

Well said, Karen! There is a dissonance between the government's boasts about the proportion of services being bulk billed by GPs and the falling numbers of medical graduates who want to become GPs.

Dr Ailsa Mary Carole Laidlaw   12/03/2022 10:15:27 PM

The senator's remarks are a disgraceful embarrassment to her party.
BUT to the bigger picture of the future of community based primary care medical services....the reality is that most of the population will be going to state EDs for all their care because the federal governments of both persuasions don't care about the actual quality of patient care. And the state governments are only interested in their responsibilities ie hospital care.
I am most saddened by this drift towards the inevitable removal of general practice from our health care system, despite the international evidence that primary medical care is incredibly effective, including cost effective.
Barring a miracle, the systematic underfunding of general practice will force most general practices to close. There may be a few outliers in affluent areas.
The strategic analysis is that ED care is at least x10 more expensive than GP care for less good results.....but politicians and bureaucrats in Canberra don't care.

Dr Sawsan Zoghbar   12/03/2022 11:18:19 PM

We are tired, stressed, underpaid and abused by our own patients and the system!

Prof Max Kamien, AM. CitWA   14/03/2022 6:50:14 PM

Taking a long view-if GP folds, health care costs will soar and future governments will have to forgo their nuclear submarines and re-invent us.

Dr Philip Ian Dawson   15/03/2022 8:46:42 AM

Stopping "bulk billing" is no answer. All those on health care cards and pensions who do not want to or cannot pay gap fees with go to ED, as they already do in places where bulk billing is limited ( Launceston). Bulk bill selectively and those on health care cards who need care will get it Mixed billing ca take many forms. We do not bulk bill out of hours or on weekends. Our weekend clinics and call outs are well attended but not overly busy ( as they were years ago when we did bulk bill on weekends). Most people with a genuine emergency will pay our gap rather than pay the increasing petrol to drive 50kms to ED and wait 6 hours to be seen!

Dr Verity Jane Cooper   21/03/2022 7:08:50 PM

Thank you Karen for stating it so eloquently. I"m afraid I'm as pessimistic as many of the comments above about the future of general practice. It IS a great profession, I've really enjoyed (most of) my patients, but will be retiring in 3 months with no regrets. Would hate to be starting out now......

Anon   13/07/2022 8:29:12 AM

Yes, agree but the RACGP,'s own website is saying different. On one hand, maybe to sell general practice as a career, unrealistic estimates of possible salaries are published while on the other hand the RACGP claims the rebates are too low. The latter is correct but the messaging is inconsistent.