More doctors needed for grey wave
University of WA professor of geriatric medicine Leon Flicker. File picture: Iain Gillespie/The West Australian

The number of geriatric medicine specialists in WA is expected to double in the next 20 years to cope with the so-called "silver tsunami" of elderly patients.

The State's ageing population has already prompted some Perth specialists to close their books to new patients because they are unable to take on the heavy workload of more elderly people, who often have complex health problems and take multiple medications.

University of WA professor of geriatric medicine Leon Flicker said some established geriatric specialists were fully booked but there were new graduates coming aboard so patients might need to shop around to find an available doctor.

Most geriatric medicine positions in the State were still able to be filled, with the exception of a few regional jobs.

Professor Flicker, who is also director of the WA Centre for Healthy Ageing, said there were about 55 full-time equivalent positions and another 20 doctors were in training.

He expected that within 20 years that number would need to increase to about 100 to 120, which he believed would be enough to cope with the increasing demand. "In WA, we're not doing too badly at the moment because we've been training above the national average, so we're not seeing a huge unmet demand," Professor Flicker said.

"But we could always do with more."

He said a significant issue was trying to get specialists and GPs to provide the necessary care for people in residential care.

The Australian and New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians warned a national inq-uiry into dementia services a year ago that there was a shortage of skilled geriatricians to treat an inc-reasing number of older patients, many with complex health issues including degenerative disease.

The medical groups said other doctors such as GPs and palliative medicine specialists were increasingly being forced to step in to fill the gap.

However, they needed more specific training in the care of older patients with multiple needs.

Health problems affecting elderly patients could include behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia and many older people were on several types of medication that could interact and cause harm.

The West Australian

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