Meeting with Health Minister Tony Abbott in his electorate of Warringah this morning, AMA President, Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, warned that an alarming proportion of Australia's already shrinking GP workforce will retire over the next few years.
With a study in this week's Medical Journal of Australia confirming that general practice is not the preferred career option for many medical graduates, the challenge is how to support those staying in general practice and help them to train the next generation of GPs.
At a breakfast with Mr Abbott and GPs from the Manly area, Dr Haikerwal highlighted the increasing urgency of retaining the nation's dwindling general practice workforce and recruiting to its ranks.
"Our system of health care based on the competence, personal care and coordination of patient health needs by GPs makes it truly effective and robust," Dr Haikerwal said.
"The Manly Warringah Division of General Practice is luckier than most, with its above average complement of GPs per head of population.
"But close to half of all GPs practising in Mr Abbott's electorate are over 55 years of age, which means they're getting pretty close to retirement.
"It's a problem across Australia, and one the Government must address now."
Just under 30 per cent of GPs nationally are 55 or older, and many work much longer hours than the current generation.
"It's time for policy makers to look at retirement trends and how the Government can keep these incredibly experienced doctors in the workforce for a little while longer," Dr Haikerwal said.
"At the same time the Government must ensure that there are enough fully trained, competent young doctors entering the system to prevent a huge shortage of GPs when the older doctors finally do retire.
"There must not only be enough medical places at universities, but also adequate resources to train post-graduates through to the high standards we in Australia expect of our health care professionals."
Dr Haikerwal met with Mr Abbott and local GPs in Manly today as part of Family Doctor Week, an AMA initiative to highlight GPs' important role in keeping Australia healthy.
"It's important that the Government makes general practice an attractive career choice for young doctors," Dr Haikerwal said.
"That means cutting the paperwork burden on family doctors, allowing them to spend more time with their patients, ensuring indemnity premiums are not disproportionately high for part-time doctors, keeping general practice financially competitive with other specialisations and supporting GP-led healthcare teams.
"GPs look after the health of all Australians. Let's make sure Australia looks after its GPs."