Huge pre-Covid increase in foreign doctors joining Australia’s healthcare system

More than 22,797 trained health professionals, including 4699 overseas doctors, have relocated to Australia in the first 10 months of this financial year, in a substantial bolstering of Australia’s healthcare system.

New figures released on Sunday found the number of health care workers, such as nurses and midwives, who have registered to practise in Australia in the 2023-24 financial year were more than twice that of pre-Covid figures between 2018-19.

For doctors, this represented just over a 55 per cent increase on 2018-19 figures, when 2991 foreign-trained doctors registered to practise in Australia.

Data showed 60 per cent of doctors who relocated to Australia between July 2023 to April 2024 were from either the United Kingdom, Ireland, India and the Philippines.

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The majority of doctors have also settled in a regional, rural or remote community, with guidelines stipulating foreign doctors must practise outside major cities for the first 10 years after immigrating to Australia if they want to provide Medicare services.

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Health Minister Mark Butler said recruiting highly trained overseas healthcare workers was a priority for the government. NewsWire/ Martin Ollman Credit: News Corp Australia

In September 2023, the Albanese government removed red tape to make it easier for doctors nurses to relocate, with this year’s budget investing another $90m to streamline processes.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, federal Health Minister Mark Butler said despite the government cutting migration figures, recruiting trained doctors was a priority for the government.

Since winning government in 2022, he said unprocessed visa claims had dropped significantly from “about one million,” with processing periods now dropping to days, instead of “weeks or months”.

“I think whether you talk to me as the Health Minister or to (ministers who are responsible for immigration like) Clare O’Neil and Andrew Giles, our government has a real focus and a priority for the recruitment of overseas trained doctors and nurses,” he said.

Mr Butler added that strengthening Australia’s health workforce was an “important part of Australia’s health care system”.

“The importation of overseas trained doctors and nurses and health professionals, and we’re doing everything we can to make that more effective… and that is starting to show fruit,” he said.

Asked if the push for foreign doctors entering the system might dissuade the takeup of Australian-born residents from studying medicine, he said he didn’t believe it would be an issue.

“The number of medical school places won’t change there, and you will also continue to see international students flock to Australia’s world class medical schools to train here, as well,” he said.

“The number of medical school places has expanded as we’ve come to government, particularly for rural universities, because we know when young Australians train for medicine in rural communities, they’re far more likely to stay there and to practise there.”

Released in December 2023, the Kruk Review, which was commissioned by the National Cabinet, found fast-tracking applications and streamlining processes were two key steps the government could make to tackle significant short to medium term health worker shortages.

The report found overseas-trained GPs wait a median time of 70 weeks to complete the registration process, while doctors in other specialties face a 56-week timeframe.

Foreign GPs also paid a median of $33,880 in out-of-pocket expenses during the registration process, the report found.

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