Due to the acute shortage of doctors, more than 12 million Australians are encountering the prospect of inadequate access to primary care.
The Australian has discovered the doctor shortage has deepened as authorities rely more heavily on overseas-trained medicos. It also says that at least 7200 doctors would have to be recruited by 2013 to neutralise the crisis in medicare.
The latest available figures, from the end of March, reveal the federal Department of Health and Ageing has declared "districts of workforce shortage" over 74 per cent of Australia - or 59 per cent of the population.
The worsening doctor shortage is likely to be much more profound, given the states often declare an "area of need", based on their inability to fill a public sector vacancy, over a much larger area than the Commonwealth.
The federal declarations allow the department to exempt temporarily resident overseas-trained doctors from rules that would otherwise block their access to medicare.
The number of exemptions given each year has almost doubled since 2005 to total 4148 in the year to October, and GP clinics in suburban areas are now relying on the process as a favoured recruitment method.
The Coalition claims it has addressed workforce needs through its campaign pledge to increase the number of GP training places by 50 per cent, from the current annual intake of 600 to 900 by 2011.
This follows previous increases to undergraduate medical school places, which are to double to about 3000 places a year by 2012.
An analysis of the GP workforce by the federal Government's own medical workforce agency in 2005 said the shortfalls were so marked that it would take between 1100 and 1200 new entrants into general practice every year from this year to 2013 before the situation could be turned around.