Australia's medical workforce increased by just over 6% between 1995 and 1999, compared with a population increase of 4.7%, according to the latest figures released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
This resulted in a slight rise in the supply of medical practitioners from 260 per 100,000 people in 1995 to 264 per 100,000 in 1999.
Most of this growth was for specialists, (rising from 85.8 to 89.7 per 100,000). In contrast, GPs remained steady at 110 per 100,000 population.
Medical Labour Force 1999 shows there were 50,329 Australians employed and practising in medicine.
In 1999 the ACT, South Australia and New South Wales had the highest rate with 333, 291 and 285 medical practitioners per 100,000 population respectively. Supply was about the same as the national rate in the Northern Territory (263 per 100,000), but lower in Tasmania (257), Victoria (256), Western Australia (241) and Queensland (233).
The pattern for GPs was different across geographical regions: supply remained fairly steady in capital cities and small rural centres, fell in other metropolitan areas and rose in all other areas.
Head of the AIHW's Labour Force and Rural Health Unit, Glenice Taylor, said that the nature of Australia's medical workforce had changed over recent years.
'Our medical practitioners are getting older and are working fewer hours', Ms Taylor said. 'There are also about 15% more women in the medical workforce than in 1995, and their numbers are likely to climb with continuing increases in female medical students'
In 1995, the average age of medical practitioners was 45.8 years-this shifted to 47.7 years in 1999.
The average hours worked by medical practitioners fell from 48.2 to 45.6 per week, and the proportion working 50 hours or more dropped from 53% to 47% over that period.
There was a decrease in hours worked across all regions. Primary care practitioners in remote areas, however, worked longer hours on average than those in other areas - about 51 hours per week in both years.
The workload of these doctors may have been higher but for a large increase in the number of locums in remote areas (from 7.4 to 13.7 per 100 GPs), contrary to a small national decrease from 9.2 to 8.9 per 100 GPs.
Temporary resident doctors continue to play a role in areas of need. In 1999-2000 there were 2,372 overseas-trained doctors who entered Australia on a temporary visa, more than double the number in 1995-96 (980).
While there was an increase in the number of doctors from 260 per 100,000 population in 1995 to 264 per 100,000 1999, there was a decrease in the number of full-time equivalent practitioners (FTE) per 100,000 over that period.
Based on a working week of 35 hours, in 1999 there was an equivalent of 344 medical practitioners per 100,000 population. This compares with 358 FTE per 100,000 population in 1995.
21 February 2003
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