Population shift means new challenges ahead for doctors in Inner Regional Australia

Rapidly growing communities within reach of Australia's large cities are creating unique challenges for GPs practising in these areas, a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has found.

Bathurst, Wodonga, Toowoomba, and Victor Harbor are examples of Inner Regional areas that that are undergoing a population swell as Australians move out from the cities and in from the country for the lifestyle of the coast and regional centres.

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 - using data from over 600,000 patient visits collected over a six-year period from March 1998 to April 2004.

Stephanie Knox of the University of Sydney said, 'It is well understood that there are medical workforce shortages in the Outer Regional and Remote areas of Australia, but our findings show that there is a rapidly growing demand for health services in localities in Inner Regional Australia.

'Many of these areas are growing at a rate of nearly 2% per year, and we are seeing more older Australians moving into these areas.

'With 29% of patients at GP consultations aged 65 and over, compared with 25% in Major Cities and Outer Regional Australia, we're seeing unique health service demands developing in these areas.

'In particular, GPs in Inner Regional Australia are treating more chronic conditions like osteoarthritis, heart disease and depression, than GPs in other parts of Australia.

'Rural health workforce planning needs to consider the burgeoning demand for health services in the growing Inner Regional areas as well as in more remote areas, and to plan for the long-term health needs of the older population,' Ms Knox said.

Traditionally, incentives to attract doctors to more remote areas have been based on the Rural, Remote and Metropolitan Areas (RRMA) of Australia classification, which measures population density and straight-line distance to service centres.

However, the report found that Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC) Remoteness Structure, a newer geographical classification which allocates localities to remoteness categories based on the road distance to service centres was better able to define regional differences than RRMA.

30 September 2005

Further information: Stephanie Knox, tel. 02 9845 8157, or 0412 971 061 or 0411 197 938

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 61 2 6244 1032