‘Unpopular’ specialties may benefit from doctor oversupply


31 Dec 2014

The current oversupply of doctors may be an opportunity to address the mismatch in supply and demand for ‘unpopular’ specialties and geographical locations, the latest Health Workforce Australia Report says.

The report, the last before the government agency was abolished in August, laid the blame for the current oversupply on uncoordinated decision making leading to a “boom and bust” cycle in medical training at a cost to the community and tax payer.

There was now an ‘immediate need’ to deal with the significant increase in domestic medical students over the past ten years, the report warned.

From 2008 to 2012 the number of registered medical practitioners increased by 16.4%, compared to an increase in the population of 7%, figures showed.

During this time the number of specialists grew by 67% compared to a growth in general practitioners of 33%, which “could indicate a move away from a generalist workforce,” the report said.

To avoid further oversupply of doctors in the short-to-medium term medical school intake should be frozen from next year, the report recommended.

A gradual reduction in temporary migration was also necessary in order to find a balance between medical workforce supply and demand over time.

However the report acknowledged that a large number of doctors would retire in 2025 and a critical plan was needed to replace these doctors, especially as it takes between 10-15 years to train them.

“This reinforces the need to plan over a medium term time horizon and to minimise short term movements in medical intakes,” the report said.

“Without change there will be growing mismatch between the number of junior doctors wanting a training position and Australia’s specialist workforce requirements”.

“In the absence of any change it is likely that a growing number of pre-vocational doctors who want to get on to a specialist training program will not be offered a specialist training place”.

 This provides an opportunity to develop policy which better aligns training with community requirements, the report which was written by the HWA’s National Medical Training Advisory Network said.

This will include updating workforce supply and demand modelling for individual specialities to “provide a better understanding” of supply and demand for individual specialities.

Through the NMTAN the HWA will also look at the career aspirations of doctors in training to ensure mismatches in future workforce need are addressed.

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