GPs ready to walk away from health system

FOUR in 10 doctors are thinking of leaving their profession because of disenchantment with the Rudd Government's health-care reforms, a survey has found.

FOUR in 10 doctors are thinking of leaving their profession because of disenchantment with the Rudd Government's health-care reforms, a survey has found.

The survey, in the doctors' journal Medical Observer, shows doctors have savaged plans to overhaul primary health care and found three-quarters of them believe proposed super-clinics will not lead to better patient care.

Last month, Health Minister Nicola Roxon proposed opening up primary health care to allow nurses and allied health professionals such as psychologists and physiotherapists to do jobs that were the domain of doctors.

A reference group of doctors, nurses and other health workers has been established to advise the Government on changes to the health system, which are set to allow teams of nurses and dietitians to monitor and manage the treatment of those with chronic disease. Plans to allow nurses and other professionals to prescribe drugs on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme are also under consideration.

But according to the nation-wide Medical Observer survey of 359 doctors, the reforms have low support among doctors - 94% said other allied professionals such as psychologists and physiotherapists should never be allowed to prescribe drugs unsupervised by a doctor and 72% believed any increased role for nurses and other health professionals was merely a cost-cutting measure.

Some 70% believed the reforms would compromise patient safety.

A third believed the reforms could help patients, while only 42% of doctors objected to other health professionals independently treating minor health problems.

But most disturbingly for the Government, 39% of GPs said they were considering leaving medicine as a direct result of the proposed changes and 40% said they were highly or severely stressed because of them. Another 36% of respondents said they were reconsidering their future as GPs.

Government plans to build super-clinics set to house doctors, nurses and other health professionals got the thumbs down from doctors - 74% disagreed with the statement that super-clinics would lead to better patient access to GPs and after-hours services.

A third of doctors believed the clinics would lower the standard of patient care - 35% were of the opinion they would make no difference at all. Only 16% believed the clinics would lead to an improvement.

Doctors endorsed a federal takeover of hospitals - almost 60% believed a takeover would improve patient care and accountability in hospitals.

Despite the outrage the Australian Medical Association has expressed over the changes, 72% of doctors believed their views were not being adequately put to the Government - with the Rural Doctors Association endorsed as the best advocate ahead of the AMA. The Government-favoured Australian General Practice Network ranked as the least representative body.

A spokesman for Ms Roxon said that a similar survey in 2004 by another journal, Australian Doctor, also found 40% of doctors were seeking early retirement.

Ms Roxon said yesterday she recognised that doctors were consistently under pressure.

"With GPs working so hard, we must find a way to use our existing workforce as productively as possible," Ms Roxon said.

KEY POINTS

? A survey shows about 40% of Australian doctors may opt for early retirement.

? Three-quarters believe super-clinics will not lead to better patient access to doctors.


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