Access to after-hours GP services needs a boost in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven, according to a new report.
Abhijeet Ghosh, the lead author of the Illawarra Shoalhaven Medicare Local's Population Health Profile 2013, said after-hours services had been identified as a major issue for the region.
"After-hours services has been identified as a national priority and our data suggests that's the correct move," he said.
"In terms of utilisation rates of Medicare services, after-hours service is the only service where this region lags behind the NSW and Australian averages.
"So we're trying to work towards improving this."
Overall utilisation rates for GP services were significantly higher than the state and national averages. However, the report showed that the number of GPs had risen consistently since 2009, with the Illawarra seeing a 10 per cent growth in GPs in three years.
The report also revealed an ageing GP population, with 40 per cent of GPs in the region aged 55 years or above.
However, the proportion of GPs aged under 35 had risen by nearly 70 per cent since 2010.
"Since the University of Wollongong has been turning out graduates from its medical school, the proportion of younger GPs has been steadily increasing," Mr Ghosh said. "But more needs to be done to recruit and retain these young doctors."
The report uncovered some alarming hospitalisation figures. The Shoalhaven region had the highest rate of coronary heart disease hospitalisations, while overall the Shellharbour area had the highest hospitalisation rates.
"Hospitalisation rates, especially for the Shellharbour region, are significantly higher than the NSW average," Mr Ghosh said.
"Shellharbour came up as the worst offender in the region in terms of hospitalisations for diabetes, smoking, coronary heart disease, alcohol and high body mass attributable hospitalisations."
The report showed Shellharbour also had a considerable need for more residential aged-care places.
"Overall, the Illawarra-Shoalhaven rate for high-level, aged-care places is significantly lower than the state and national average," Mr Ghosh said. "This region has a significant ageing population, which is expected to increase by 40 to 50 per cent in the next 10 years."
Another area of continuing need was in indigenous healthcare.
"These latest findings tells us that the region's indigenous population has more than double the hospitalisation rates for causes such as alcohol, smoking, mental health and respiratory diseases," Mr Ghosh said.