Objective: From Census data, to document the distribution of general practitioners in Australia and to estimate the number of general practitioners needed to achieve an equitable distribution accounting for community health need.
Methods: Data on location of general practitioners, population size and crude mortality by statistical division (SD) were obtained from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The number of patients per general practitioner by SD was calculated and plotted. Using crude mortality to estimate community health need, a ratio of the number of general practitioners per person: mortality was calculated for all Australia and for each SD (the Robin Hood Index). From this, the number of general practitioners needed to achieve equity was calculated.
Results: In all, 26,290 general practitioners were identified in 57 SDs. The mean number of people per general practitioner is 707, ranging from 551 to 1887. Capital city SDs have most favourable ratios. The Robin Hood Index for Australia is 1, and ranges from 0.32 (relatively under-served) to 2.46 (relatively over-served). Twelve SDs (21%) including all capital cities and 65% of all Australians, have a Robin Hood Index > 1. To achieve equity per capita 2489 more general practitioners (10% of the current workforce) are needed. To achieve equity by the Robin Hood Index 3351 (13% of the current workforce) are needed.
Conclusions: The distribution of general practitioners in Australia is skewed. Nonmetropolitan areas are relatively underserved. Census data and the Robin Hood Index could provide a simple means of identifying areas of need in Australia.