Australian women’s choice in antenatal care is being reduced, as governments and hospitals increasingly shift antenatal care into hospital-exclusive settings and away from a woman’s GP.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has today called on governments to recognise the vital role a GP can play in providing maternity care and its importance for the long-term health of the nation.
Chair of the RACGP Antenatal and Postnatal Care network Dr Wendy Burton said women should have a choice when it comes to where they receive their care during pregnancy and that included the option to have their healthcare delivered by their GP.
“Many women do not even know that their GP, in partnership with midwives and obstetricians, can play a key role in their antenatal care. We need to get better at closing the gaps in care that occur as women transition between specialists or hospital-based and community-based care,” Dr Burton said.
“Antenatal care does not have to be exclusively care by a private obstetrician, midwife or GP or a publicly funded, usually hospital-based, midwife or obstetrician– it should be flexible and wrap around the needs of the woman and the skills of her healthcare team.
“GPs, midwives and obstetricians are natural partners who can champion the importance of women having ongoing care by a health professional they come to know and trust.
“However, I am hearing from GPs around the nation that they are being pushed out of providing care to women who they have an existing therapeutic relationship with, in exchange for hospital-based care which typically concludes 6 weeks or less following birth.”
Dr Burton said when a GP is involved in a pregnancy there can be significant, long term benefits.
“Many patients I see through their pregnancy have been my patient for years and I will continue to be their family doctor for many years post birth,” Dr Burton said.
“I am now in the fortunate position of looking after the babies of babies I looked after.
Dr Burton said women who continue to see their GP through shared care arrangements have the benefit of being supported and cared for as they are go through their journey with a health professional they already know and trust.
“We need hospitals to understand that the time lines for providing care to families start well before they are seen by the hospital sector and continue well after the six-week postnatal period ends,” Dr Burton said.
The RACGP will be calling upon the government to truly acknowledge and value the role of GPs in the new National Strategic Approach to Maternity Services (NSAMS), due for release next year.
“In the best of our models, maternity care in general practice is measured in decades and generations.
“We look after mum, and we can also provide ongoing care to baby, dad, and siblings and treat existing and emerging medical conditions.”
The RACGP’s position statement on Maternity Care in general practice is available here.
Editor’s note – What is Maternity Shared care and GP Obstetricians?
During a women’s pregnancy, should she have her care through a public hospital, she may receive her antenatal care directly from her GP under a shared care agreement with the hospital. This last option is increasingly being taken away by a number of hospitals, often without any consultation with GPs.
Beyond shared care is also the care provided to women by GP obstetricians, which is rarely seen now outside of the rural and remote parts of Australia, despite the benefits which can flow from this model of care as it provides the ultimate in continuity of carer.
Regional and rural Australians living through one of the toughest droughts in Australia’s history will be able to pick up the phone and talk to their GP about their mental health under a new arrangement announced by the Australian Government.
President of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), Dr Harry Nespolon has welcomed today’s announcement by the Federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt, which will increase the availability of mental health services in the bush.
“This is an incredibly hard time for those affected by the drought, and the mental health of people in these communities is an area of key concern at this time,” Dr Nespolon said.
“Mental health is a very prevalent issue in Australia, just because we cannot see it when we walk down the street does not mean it isn’t there.
"Unsurprisingly, mental health issues can become significantly worse during a drought.
“When working with a community in crisis, mental health needs to be a priority to ensure that long term conditions are not formed.
"Today's announcement is a step in the right direction towards addressing the prevalence of mental health issues in our community."
RACGP Rural Chair, Dr Ayman Shenouda also congratulated the government, noting that a recentAustralian Journal of Rural Health report revealed that a third of rural and remote Australians suffering moderate to high psychological distress don’t think they have a problem, which shows a need for increased mental health education for patients living in rural Australia.
“This announcement by the Australian Government will be a great boost to people living in the bush, and will help to remove the barriers for our patients who need to chat about their mental health,” Dr Shenouda said.
“Allowing a patient to claim a Medicare rebate for a phone call with their GP is an excellent way of making sure that high level healthcare is affordable and accessible to our regional Australians.
“In the bush it can be very hard to get our patients in the door to talk about their mental health, which we know is vital for their overall health.
“If you are in need of support, please make sure to reach out to your GP, who can take the steps needed to support you and manage your condition.”