Vishnu Gopalan's general practice employs nine staff, eight of whom were trained overseas.(ABC News: Herlyn Kaur)ShareFacebookTwitterArticle share optionsShare this onFacebookTwitterLinkedInSend this byEmailMessengerCopy linkWhatsAppPrint contentPrint with images and other mediaPrint text onlyPrintCancelFor decades, hundreds of general practices across Australia have relied on recruiting qualified overseas doctors to fill workforce shortages, but there are concerns a drop in migration due to coronavirus is about to cause problems.Key points:Many regional and remote locations rely on internationally-trained GPsThere are concerns border closures will reduce the pool of doctorsThe WA Government says the sector won't be affected by fewer migrantsVishnu Gopalan has nine doctors at his clinic in Canning Vale south of Perth, and all but one have been trained overseas."We have a good mix of GPs from different backgrounds, including Indian, Sri Lankan, Malaysian, English and of course Aussie doctors as well," Dr Gopalan said."Pretty much everyone including myself, everyone is a migrant."My wife is an Aussie, she trained locally at the University of Melbourne so she is homegrown, but other than her everybody is a migrant GP here."The workforce has been historically reliant on international medical graduates, with about 50 per cent of GPs in WA being trained overseas.When they first arrive in Australia, internationally-trained GPs have to spend at least 10 years working in a distribution priority area (DPA), an area that does not have enough access to doctors based on the needs of the community. Newly-arrived international medical graduates are not able to work much of the Perth metropolitan area, shown in blue.(Supplied: WA Health)Overseas doctors surpass local graduatesIn 2015, for the first time nationally, there were more doctors with international qualifications than there were from Australia or New Zealand. The number of GPs who got their qualification overseas surpassed local graduates for the first time in 2015.(Supplied: Royal Australian College of General Practitioners)But with an expected drop in migration as borders remain shut, a growing number of GPs are worried the pool of available doctors will shrink."Traditionally GP recruitment is a tough gig. A lot of practices rely on recruiters and now because of the COVID situation it's become very difficult," Dr Gopalan said."The interstate movement is pretty much dead because our borders are closed." Hui Cheng Tay says her Rockingham practice has been in need of GPs.(ABC News: Herlyn Kaur)Like the thousands of others in Australia, Hui Cheng Tay obtained her qualifications internationally and decided to move from Malaysia with her husband in 2009 in search for a better work-life balance.Over the past decade, she has relied mostly on recruiting overseas-trained GPs to help run her practice in the outer-Perth suburb of Rockingham."When I think about this practice, all the adverts that we've put out to try to recruit new GPs, I can't recall a single response from someone that was locally trained," Dr Tay said."All our responses have been from international medical graduates."We have been in need of GPs pretty much since we took over, so that just basically means longer wait times for patients, which does not necessarily serve the community best. Particularly when you are serving a community that are elderly."They have very complex issues. It's not uncommon for them to go into hospital today and come out three weeks later only to go back into hospital." Dr Tay says patients are in danger of facing longer wait times.(ABC News: Herlyn Kaur)Minister confident sector will be OKWhile WA Health Minister Roger Cook believed the sector would not be negatively impacted by a fall in migration levels, he said it was up to the Commonwealth to put in place measures to boost the workforce."WA still badly lags the nation in the availability of GPs per head of population, with a paltry 77 GPs per 100,000 population compared to a national average of 95 GPs per 100,000," he said."Whilst the McGowan Government is responsible for running public hospitals, it is the Federal Government that is responsible for primary healthcare, including GPs." Health Minister Roger Cook doubts reduced migration will compromise the sector.(ABC News: James Carmody)The WA Health Department expects Curtin University's medical school will see the number of graduates increase from 2022, helping boost the GP workforce.But the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) said while there had been a rise in the overall number of medical graduates in Australia, many chose other specialities over general practice."It is also vital that we encourage more medical students to choose the general practice path," RACGP president Harry Nespolon said."Given that more than one-third of GPs are aged over 55 we must invest in our future GP workforce."A decline in specialist GP numbers will have a devastating impact on the health of the nation."Concerns migrants will lose interestIn recent months recruitment agency Healthcare Australia (HCA), which helps Australian and international health workers find employment, said it had seen a spike in demand for its services.HCA WA general manager Stuart Webster said he was concerned international travel restrictions would see migrants lose interest in moving to Australia."WA is already isolated and with the border closure all international travel has stopped," he said."The result is that the gap between supply and demand is increasing."There is a backlog, but more importantly there is a dramatic drop in interest in looking to move to Australia as the international border remains closed."This will have longer term implications as we will not be getting skilled and unskilled workforce coming to Australia or WA to support [the] local workforce and increasing demand with aging population implications." AMA WA president Andrew Miller says the impact will be felt in regional and remote areas.(ABC News: Herlyn Kaur)Australian Medical Association (AMA) WA president Andrew Miller said GP shortages had been an issue across the country for a long time but were exacerbated by COVID-19."International medical graduates have for the longest time been an incredibly important and valued part of our health system and they will continue to be," he said."The reduced access to them at this time means communities are missing out not only on general practitioners but on specialist support that they need, and this particularly hits outer-lying suburban areas as well as rural, regional and remote areas."What you need to know about coronavirus:Should I wear a face mask?The symptomsThe number of cases in AustraliaGlobal cases, deaths and testing rates
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