District of Workforce Shortage Factsheet

A District of Workforce Shortage (DWS) is a geographical area of Australia in which the population's need for healthcare has not been met.

Page last updated: 25 February 2015

What is a District of Workforce Shortage?

A district of workforce shortage (DWS) is an area of Australia in which the population’s need for medical services has not been met. Population needs for medical services are deemed to be unmet if a district has less access to medical services than the national average.

Section 19AB of the Health Insurance Act 1973 (the Act) restricts overseas trained doctors (OTDs) and Foreign Graduates of Accredited Medical Schools (FGAMS) from accessing the Medicare benefits arrangements unless they choose to practise in a DWS for their medical specialty in order to access the Medicare benefits arrangements. All OTDs and FGAMS who first started working as a doctor in Australia after 1996 are subject to section 19AB of the Act.

OTDs and FGAMS may apply for access to the Medicare benefits arrangements for the services they provide within a DWS by submitting a Medicare provider number application form to Department of Human Services (DHS) – Medicare. The Medicare provider number application form can be obtained from the DHS website.

How is a DWS determined?

The Department of Health (the Department) determines which areas are a DWS for a medical specialty by using Australian Bureau of Statistics population data and the latest Medicare billing statistics for a medical specialty.

In general, a location is deemed to be a DWS for a medical specialty if it falls below the national average for the provision of medical services for the specialty, based on the latest Medicare billing statistics. DWS classifications are updated annually for all medical specialities (including general practice) by the Department to account for the latest Medicare billing statistics.

What is an Area of Need?

Area of Need is determined by the State and Territory Governments and methods of defining an Area of Need may vary. Generally, an Area of Need determination is granted when a vacant medical position remains unfilled after recruitment efforts have taken place over a period of time.

In determining an Area of Need, the relevant State or Territory ensures that Australian qualified doctors are not disadvantaged and that all attempts have been made to fill the position with Australian qualified doctors.

Who is affected by Area of Need?

It may be a condition of medical registration for a doctor that they practice within an Area of Need position under supervision.

Further information:

For further information regarding DWS, please email the Access Policy Section of the Department (19AB@health.gov.au).

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