More doctors, but working less

Australia's medical workforce increased by just over 12% between 1996 and 2001, but because doctors are working fewer hours the overall doctor supply remained unchanged, according to the latest figures released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

While there was an increase in the number of doctors from 260 per 100,000 population in 1996 to 275 per 100,000 in 2001, the average number of hours worked by medical practitioners fell from 48.1 to 45.4 per week. The proportion of doctors working 50 hours or more dropped from 52% to 47%.

The overall effect was that, based on a 35-hour working week, the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) doctors remained steady at 357 FTE practitioners per 100,000 population in both 1996 and 2001.

The FTE supply of GPs, however, fell from 141 to 134 FTEs per 100,000 population, based on a 35-hour week.

Most of the growth in the medical workforce per 100,000 population was for specialists and specialists in training. The GP component remained steady.

The fall in hours worked applied across all regions. Doctors in remote areas, however, continued to work longer hours on average than those in other areas-about 48 to 53 hours per week.

Head of the AIHW's Labour Force and Rural Health Unit, Glenice Taylor, said that an encouraging sign for areas outside the capital cities was that between 1996 and 2001 there were small to moderate increases in FTE rates in inner regional, remote and very remote areas. The largest of these was in very remote regions where supply rose from 142 to 170 FTE practitioners per 100,000 population.

Ms Taylor also said that despite the stability in doctor supply, the nature of Australia's medical workforce changed between 1996 and 2001.

'For example our medical practitioners got older. In 1996, the average age of medical practitioners was 44.9 years-this shifted to 46.1 years in 2001.'

'And the proportion of female practitioners continued to rise, from 28% in 1996 to 31% in 2001.'

Other information contained in the report includes:

  • There were 53,384 registered medical practitioners working in medicine in Australia in 2001.
  • Most (93%) were clinicians, of whom just under half were GPs, and one-third were specialists.
  • In 2001, the highest practitioner rates were in the ACT, Northern Territory and South Australia, followed by Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania, Western Australia and Queensland.

Canberra, 21 November 2003

Further information: Ms Glenice Taylor, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1153

Media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1032