‘We’re the solution’: GPs take workforce woes to Canberra

Michelle Wisbey

29/11/2023 2:46:02 PM

Red, blue, green, and teal – MPs from across the political divide have met at Parliament House for the Friends of General Practice roundtable.

Nicole Higgins and Sophie Scamps sitting together.
RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins with Independent MP Dr Sophie Scamps at the Friends of General Practice roundtable.

In a rare show of unity, politicians have put their party allegiances aside, all in the name of general practice.
Almost one year to the day since it was launched, the nonpartisan Parliamentary Friends of General Practice group reconvened in Canberra on Monday with the aim of finding solutions to the pressures plaguing primary care.
From workforce shortages, to underfunding, burnout and payroll tax, the roundtable discussed the key pain points well known to doctors everywhere.
The group is made up of GPs from across Australia and co-chaired by Liberal National Party Senator Susan McDonald, Independent MP and former GP Dr Sophie Scamps, and Labor MP Dr Gordon Reid.
RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins was also in attendance, flying the flag for better recognition of GPs within healthcare and in Australia more broadly.
She told newsGP the meeting was held at a time when there are more healthcare professionals in Parliament than ever before, a shift already prompting change.
‘There was a lot of talk about the amazing work that GPs do, and how undervalued and underfunded they are,’ Dr Higgins said.
‘Our discussions were very aligned with the RACGP’s asks and positions on retention, on payroll tax, and on the multidisciplinary teams supporting GPs and the work they do.
‘We also talked about looking at a fellowship support pathway when we’ve got doctors wanting to come and work in rural and regional Australia and having to pay for the privilege – this is low hanging fruit for the Government to fund.’
According to the RACGP’s latest Health of the Nation report, just 20% of practising GPs would recommend their profession to junior colleagues and 29% intend to retire in the next five years.
Additionally, 71% of GPs had experienced feelings of burnout, while overall job satisfaction plummeted to 66%.
It was this looming crisis which dominated the meeting, as all parties work towards a solution.
Dr Higgins said the next step is attracting more people into the Australian general practice workforce, whether it be from medical schools or overseas.
We’ve already streamlined our processes within RACGP by cutting out red tape for those doctors who are coming in from overseas,’ she said.
‘It’s about career attractiveness and how are we making sure medical students have touch points with general practice at every step of the way, because you can’t be what you can’t see.
‘We need to make sure our medical schools are exposing our potential future GPs to general practice and having fantastic experiences across all of the medical schools, and elevating generalism as the basis of our medical school training.’
The meeting comes as general practice finds itself at a crossroads, with patient demand going up as GP numbers go down.
But Dr Higgins said the RACGP has been working hard over the past year to establish strong ties with Canberra and the Federal Government.
She said she left the meeting with a sense of optimism – feeling hopeful about the future of general practice and listened to by those in attendance.
‘This is recognition of the importance of general practice within the healthcare system, at the same time as that healthcare system is in crisis,’ Dr Higgins said.
‘This is us coming together saying “we’re the solution, this is how we can help, and this is what we need to do”.
‘This meeting has a footprint over all the parties, from the Government to the Opposition, the Teals, the independents, and the Greens – everyone was present – and together we’re making sure we’ve got a thriving and sustainable general practice for all Australians to access.’
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