A SYSTEM intended to improve the allocation of medical practitioners throughout Australia has led to longer waiting times, higher out-of-pocket expenses and fewer doctors for patients in the Hunter and Central Coast, a workforce report has found.
A Hunter New England and Central Coast Primary Health Network report submitted to the Federal Government in December says the transition to the new Distribution Priority Area (DPA) classification system has "significantly" impacted general practices throughout the region.
It says practices across the region often have difficulty attracting sufficient numbers of Australian-trained doctors. As a result, they rely heavily on DPA status to recruit international medical graduates and incentives for Australian-trained doctors.
In the past three years, 149 local practices lost DPA status, representing about 38 per cent of practices in the region. Most were located in areas with "high levels of healthcare demand".
A survey of GPs in the region found 54 of the survey's 104 respondents had lost DPA status.
Almost 90 per cent of practices reported an increase in waiting times since losing status, compared with 62 per cent of practices that did not; and 61 per cent reported increasing out-of-pocket costs, compared with 19 per cent.
The report predicted that access to care was likely to deteriorate further, due to declines in practice viability.
"Practices are struggling to attract and retain the workforce they require, with 94 per cent reporting increased difficulty recruiting doctors since losing DPA status, compared with 52 per cent of practices that did not experience a change," it says.
"Practices are also struggling financially, with 89 per cent of practices reporting worsening financial viability since losing DPA status, compared with 48 per cent."
At least one medical centre in the Hunter has had to close one of its branches due to the change in DPA status.
A submission to a NSW Parliamentary inquiry into access to rural and regional health care cited a "critical shortage" of doctors in the Port Stephens Area.
The changes have led a Nelson Bay medical centre to close one of its three practices due to an inability to attract, recruit and retain overseas-trained doctors.
"Since 2018 we have lost four doctors and cannot replace them," the submission says. "We train GP registrars but cannot keep them once they finish. Doctors are burnt out."
The Primary Health Network recommended the government review the modelling of patient demand and workforce supply, and the process for determining and allocating DPA status, in order to resolve any "unintended consequences" from the changes.
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