GP shortage forces aged care residents into hospital

Newly released survey highlights the impact of a chronic GP shortage.

Residents in need of medical care are being forced to leave their home and travel to a hospital emergency department for treatment because there are not enough geriatricians to go around.

A new national survey, released by Catholic Health Australia (CHA), reported that more than half the nursing homes questioned had no choice but to send sick residents to hospital because of a chronic shortage of aged care doctors.

The Survey of Access to General Practice (GP) Services in Residential Aged Care found that 57 per cent of respondents had transferred residents to emergency departments on occasion while 18 per cent had to do so ‘fairly frequently’ or ‘regularly’.

“There are not enough doctors to meet the needs of older Australians who live in residential aged care,” said CEO of CHA, Martin Laverty.

“Alarmingly, many of the committed doctors who do work in aged care are themselves approaching retirement – which will soon make the shortfall worse.”

But, Mr Laverty said, the shortage is not the fault of any doctor or residential aged care facility. 

“Over the past few decades, as a society, we haven’t prepared to have sufficient medical services available for an ageing population. There is a need for new ideas on how to make medical care available when needed to avoid resident admission to hospital.”

“Just under 90 per cent of the aged care homes surveyed reported serious concerns about their interaction with GPs, ranging from poor access to communication,” he said.

“Difficulties in organising timely visits because of GPs having full case loads was the most frequently raised concern. The survey suggests there are not enough doctors to care for the ageing, and those who do are over-worked.”

After-hours access to doctors was also a major concern. Many residents were unable to continue seeing their existing GPs after moving into residential aged care.

According to Mr Laverty the situation could be overturned, in favour of residents, if medical care was better coordinated and if there were incentives for general practitioners (GPs) to spend more time serving the needs of residents.

CHA has called upon the government to step in, as part of the process of ongoing health reform, to ensure that more doctors are encouraged to take up roles in caring for aged care residents.

“The obvious solution is to redefine who does what in the medical system. Nurse practitioners have an important role. Doctors’ surgeries need to be funded to have general practice nurses.”

Mr Laverty also suggests that additional GPs should be trained to provide geriatric care, with clinical placements in an aged care facility making all the difference.

The full survey is available at www.cha.org.au/site.php?id=18

Tags: aged, australia, care, catholic, general, health, practioners,

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