Australians delaying doctor visits due to rising costs

The number of Australians delaying a necessary visit to their doctor has doubled, as increasing costs weigh on their hip pockets.

Analysis released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday found seven per cent of Australians who needed to see a GP in 2022-23 delayed or did not make an appointment because of the price, up from 3.5 per cent the previous year.

This comes as the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners' 2023 Health of the Nation reported the proportion of GPs charging $85 or more for a consultation had doubled in 12 months. 

Meanwhile, one in five put off or completely skipped seeing a mental health professional when they needed to.

Both these patterns of delay were most common among Australia's vulnerable populations: young people and those living in socio-economically disadvantaged areas.

Of those between 15 and 24 years old, 23 per cent delayed or skipped their mental health appointments compared to 8.6 per cent of those over 65 years old.

Those who lived in areas of most socio-economic disadvantage were twice as likely to put off or forgo seeing a dental professional when they needed to.

Even those who work in health care are struggling with expenses, with a Health Services Union survey reported by the Sydney Morning Herald revealing nearly half of the surveyed union members could not afford medical care for themselves or their family. 

The news comes as the health sector struggles with GP shortages at clinics in rural, remote and areas on the outskirts of big cities.

Health Minister Mark Butler has launched a review into the health workforce that will examine the way Australia recruits and places international doctors.

But he says there is no "silver bullet" to addressing a global shortage of doctors and nurses.

"What we need to do is look at a whole range of things that will ensure we have the best possible mix of health workers across all of our communities and deal with some of the long-standing inequities that afflict particularly communities outside our major cities," he told ABC radio on Tuesday.

The review will examine how policies and programs could be strengthened to improve access to doctors, nurses and other health workers outside urban centres, and will be led by remote health professor Sabina Knight and academic Mick Reid.

"The levers we have to spread doctors and health workers around the country are from a very different time, before the COVID pandemic and the global health workforce crunch," Mr Butler said.

“(The government) will use all possible levers to encourage doctors and other health workers to be where patients need them to be."

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