Paper claims Census figures belie doctor shortage 'myth'

A NATIONAL program aimed at bringing international medical graduates to fill a medical workforce shortage should be abandoned, due to an oversupply of doctors, a paper released on Friday revealed.

The paper was written by Dr Bob Birrell, from Monash University's Central for Population and Urban Research, and titled Too Many GPs.

In it, Dr Birrell says figures from a Productivity Commission and the 2011 Census belie a popular myth that Australia is in the grip of a national shortage of doctors.

And that myth is adding to a $6.7 billion bill the Commonwealth Government paid out last year in doctor's fees for bulk billing across the country.

Dr Birrell said while there were still slightly fewer GPs in regional areas for every 100,000 people, the only real difference was found in some remote areas.

He said the number of GPs practising in Australia rose by 17% in the past six years, from 18,091 in 2006-07 to 21,119 in 2011-12.

Dr Birrell said that was primarily on the back of more than 2500 IMGs who had come to Australia on 457 visas, but was also attributable to a rise in domestic graduates.

He said the majority of those GPs were using Medicare's bulk billing practices, which reimbursed doctors for about $300,000 a year for providing their service.

Dr Birrell argued the increases meant IMGs were essentially adding to the $6.7 billion government bill for bulk-billing.

"The IMG program started as a stop-gap measure in the early to mid-2000s, but that shortage has been addressed," he said.

"Now we've addressed, and we've seen a big increase in bulk billing, the IMG program should be stopped - it would mean a government saving of up to $300,000 for every doctor."

He said the focus of GP policy should instead move to managing an expected rise of 1000 each year over the next few years in domestic-trained doctors.