Long hours for doctors in remote areas

Medical practitioners in remote areas work an average of 49 hours per week, or 4 more hours per week than their capital city colleagues, according to figures released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Medical Labour Force 2000 shows that, generally, the number of medical practitioners per 100,000 population (practitioner rate) decreased and hours worked per week increased with decreasing population density.

Medical practitioner rates ranged from 307 doctors per 100,000 population in capital cities to 94 per 100,000 in 'other rural areas' (i.e., rural areas other than rural centres).

Head of the AIHW's Labour Force and Rural Health Unit, Glenice Taylor, said that the regional differences were not surprising.

'This is a continuation of a general trend. The higher average hours worked by practitioners based in remote areas is linked to the comparatively lower numbers of practitioners there.

'And, as could also be expected, specialists are concentrated in the capital cities and large rural centres because the large hospitals are located there, together with advanced equipment and facilities for research and training.'

The practitioner rate for specialists in large rural centres (101 per 100,000 population) was on a par with that for capital cities (99).

The provision of doctors in rural and remote areas was augmented by 1,353 practitioners based in more populated regions who also practised in a second, less populated region.

For example, 213 capital city-based practitioners worked, on average, one day (8.7 hours) per week in 'other rural areas'. Another 76 averaged one day (8.4 hours) per week in remote areas.

The hours worked by capital city-based practitioners in these areas equated to 55 extra practitioners in rural and remote areas working a 45-hour week.

At a national level, there were 51,106 practitioners employed and practising in medicine in Australia in 2000, an increase of 8% since 1995. The average age of employed practitioners was 46.5 years, and just under one-third (30%) were women.

Overall, medical practitioners worked an average of 45.5 hours per week in 2000, which was less than in 1995 when they worked an average of 48.2 hours. The proportion of practitioners working 50 hours or more per week remained high, however, at almost half (48.2%) of all practitioners.

The combined effect of lower average weekly hours and an increased practitioner rate was a decline in full-time equivalent rates (FTE per 100,000 population) in 2000. Based on a 45-hour week, the FTE rate declined from 279 in 1995 to 270 in 2000.

Canberra, 25 June 2003