Recent data has shown an increase of Australians going without the medical help they need due to unaffordability, with many finding trips to the GP too expensive, as well as their prescribed medications.
The Australian Government Productivity Commission’s 2023 Report on Government Services has found that nationally in 2021-22, total expenditure per person on general practice was $444 per person, a small decrease from $445 in 2020-21.
The former president of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) Mukesh Haikerwal told the ABC that prices to see a GP has risen as a result of less medical graduates choosing the path of general practice, making for a limited supply of doctors.
“I mean if only one in seven medical graduates are choosing general practice as their preferred career instead of one in two, which is what it was not too long ago, if you think it’s hard to find a doctor now, in five or 10 years when the current generation has retired, it will be a real problem,” Mr Haikerwal said.
Below is the ABS Patient Experience report by age group of Australians requiring medical services but delaying or not seeing them due to cost in 2021-2022:
But the rise in cost is making Australians neglect more than just their doctor.
The 2023 Report on Government Services also found that for the first time in ten years, Australians are delaying refilling their medical prescriptions due to cost.
The Australian Patients Association stated that from their research, 1 in 5 Australians aged 18-64 find prescription medicines to be unaffordable.
Out of pocket expenses are also on the rise with only 35 per cent of clinics nationwide still offering bulk-billing nationally, according to online healthcare directory Cleanbill.
This leaves most people the choice of paying on average $40 to see a doctor (ABC News) or a long wait in the emergency department.
Medical services with the highest out of pocket expenses, from the 2023 Report on Government Services are specialists.
Cost is not the only negative part of the experience with 24-hour wait times to urgently see a GP increasing last year from 33.9 per cent in 2020-21 to 39.1 per cent in 2021-22, according to the 2023 Report on Government Services.
Australian Health Minister Mark Butler’s response to the critical situation is to support doctors and entice medical graduates to consider general practice.
“The last 15 years have seen, I think, a devaluing of the role of general practice which is the backbone of our healthcare system,” Mr Butler said.
“We’ve got to make it a financially more attractive proposition than it is and that goes really back to that point that Mukesh made and the response that we intend to roll out in coming days and weeks.”
Credit: Lili Gallagher