Australia’s health system faces many challenges: rising rates of chronic disease, increasing out-of-pocket costs and the threats posed by climate change, to name but three. Dealing with them will require a complex mix of strategies involving multiple interest groups, significant expenditure, cross-jurisdictional action and a sustained effort over many political cycles.
But one endemic problem — the shortage of doctors in rural and regional areas — could be solved almost immediately by the federal government. This shortage, which has persisted since the early days of European colonisation, is not a problem of supply. Australia already has more than enough doctors to go round. In fact, at 3.6 doctors per 1000 people, we exceed the OECD average (3.4 per 1000) and the ratios in comparable countries including the United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand.
The problem is distribution. Many doctors choose to work in areas already well served by existing medical practitioners, and this leaves other communities, primarily those in rural and regional areas, without sufficient doctors to meet demand.
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