Medical practitioner and nurse numbers in Australia rose by 13% and 7% respectively between 2001 and 2005, according to estimates released today in two new reports by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
But because medical practitioners, on average, reduced their working hours over the period (from 45.4 to 43.7 hours per week), the increase in overall supply was around 4%, measured as full-time equivalent (FTE) medical practitioners per 100,000 population.
Anne Broadbent, of the Institute's Labour Force Unit, said that the Medical labour force 2005 report shows an estimated 60,252 medical practitioners employed in medicine in Australia in 2005.
'The vast majority (93%) of the medical practitioners working in medicine were clinicians. In addition to the 40% being primary care clinicians, 35% were specialists, and the remainder were specialists-in-training and hospital non-specialists,' Ms Broadbent said.
Women comprised around one-third of employed medical practitioners in 2005, with this likely to rise in the future with over 40% of specialists-in-training, and almost 50% of hospital non-specialists being women.
Overall supply of employed medical practitioners was estimated at 287 FTE per 100,000 population in 2005 compared with 277 FTE in 2001.
The supply of primary care clinicians (GPs) declined from 104 FTE per 100,000 in 2001 to 98 FTE in 2005. Primary care clinicians comprise about 40% of all doctors.
While the overall supply of primary care clinicians declined between 2001 and 2005, supply in remote and very remote regions rose slightly.
As a result, in 2005 there were 92 FTE primary care clinicians per 100,000 population in remote and very remote regions, compared with 100 FTE in major cities. The lowest estimated supply of primary care clinicians was in outer regional areas (84 FTE).
The Nursing and midwifery labour force 2005 report estimates that there were 244,360 nurses employed in Australia in 2005.
There were 198,315 employed registered nurses (a rise of 8.2% since 2001) and 46,044 employed enrolled nurses (a rise of 2.3% since 2001). Enrolled nurses usually work with registered nurses, undertaking less complex nursing tasks than registered nurses.
The average hours per week worked by nurses, unlike medical practitioners, increased over the five years to 2005, from 30.7 hours in 2001 to 33.0 hours in 2005.
This rise in the average number of hours worked by nurses, coupled with the increase in nurse numbers, resulted in the nursing supply rising by 10% from 2001 to 2005, although the 2005 supply was slightly down on the 2004 estimates.
The nursing supply rose from 1,031 FTE per 100,000 population in 2001 to 1,133 FTE per 100,000 population in 2005. Supply of nurses was fairly even across geographical regions in 2005.
'The nursing workforce is ageing, with the average age of employed nurses in 2005 being around 45 years compared with just over 42 years in 2001. In 2005 over one-third of all nurses were aged 50 years or over, compared with around one-quarter in 2001,' Ms Broadbent said.