Sea changers swamp doctors in inner regional Australia
30 September 2005
The movement of baby boomers to regional centres in search of a more relaxed lifestyle is creating new demands on over-stretched regional doctors, according to a recently published report from the University of Sydney.
The researchers discovered the swelling population in Inner Regional areas such as Bathurst, Wodonga, Toowoomba and Victor Harbour is creating increased need for medical services from GPs.
“We have discovered a distinct new group who have not been identified before”, said Associate Professor Helena Britt, Director of the Family Medicine Research Centre.
“The medical workforce shortages in the Outer Regional and Remote areas of Australia are well known, but our findings show a rapidly growing demand for health services in localities in Inner Regional Australia”, said Stephanie Knox of the FMRC at the University of Sydney.
Ms Knox said the population of many of these areas, which are within reach of Australia’s large cities, is growing at nearly 2 per cent per year.
“This group have different medical needs and that clearly needs to be taken account of in health planning”, said Professor Britt.
“With 29 per cent of patients at GP consultations in Inner Regional areas aged 65 and over, compared with 25 per cent in Major Cities and Outer Regional Australia, we’re seeing unique health service demands developing in these areas”, Ms Knox said.
"GPs in Inner Regional areas are treating more chronic conditions like osteoarthritis, heart disease and depression than other parts of Australia”, she said.
The report, Locality matters – The influence of geography on general practice in Australia 1998 – 2004, looks at encounters between GPs and patients in five areas – Major Cities, Inner Regional Australia, Outer Regional Australia, Remote Australia and Very Remote Australia.
“Things change as you go from cities to bigger regional towns to more remote areas”, Professor Britt said. “In Very Remote Australia there is a need for long consultations, because there are no hospitals available and a high number of indigenous Australians who have specific health needs”.
The FMRC report uses data collected over a six-year period from over 600,000 patient visits.
Doctors have been encouraged to move to more remote areas to meet medical needs based on the RRMA classification system, the Rural, Remote and Metropolitan Areas of Australia system which measures population density and straight-line distance to service centres.
However, the report found that a newer geographical classification which defines localities based on the road distance to service centres, the Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC) Remoteness Structure, was better able to define regional differences than RRMA.