This letter from RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon to the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition was published in several Australian newspapers on Friday 10 May 2019.
The Hon Scott Morrison MP, Prime Minister
The Hon Bill Shorten MP, Leader of the Opposition
10 May 2019
Dear Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition,
Who will care for all Australians?
In the weeks since the election was called, you have announced a number of health measures ranging from $200 million for pathology and $2.8 billion for hospitals (Mr Shorten), to $31 billion for hospitals and $375 million for diagnostics scans (Mr Morrison).
While we welcome any new funding for health, this flurry of activity has a glaring omission: so far, neither party has announced real investment for what is Australia’s most accessed and cost-effective healthcare – primary healthcare.
Nearly 90% of Australians see their GP every year, but only 68% of Australians fill a prescription, 55% have a pathology test, and only 14% are admitted to hospital. As an example, 250 Australians are diagnosed with dementia each day – they won’t be seen at a hospital and no pathology tests will take care of their increasing and long-term needs.
Helping Australians to live well means supporting their health at every stage of life – not just once they become unwell. A preventative and early intervention approach to healthcare, which provides people with opportunities to make choices that allow them to live long and healthy lives, regardless of income, education or location, is vital to addressing health gaps.
We are calling on you to announce your election commitments to primary healthcare, which is the closest to them and their families before they vote. Australians have the right to know your position regarding this part of the healthcare system.
In particular, we are calling on you to commit to:
- Providing flexible access to care by formalising the patient–GP relationship. This encourages the provision of continuing care and preventive health, resulting in improved patient outcomes and more effective use of health resources.
- Supporting longer consultations for complex care patients and those with mental health issues. The current Medicare rebate structure does not adequately support the complexity or comprehensiveness of care needed by patients with chronic health conditions, with the value of the rebate decreasing rapidly the longer the patient spends with their doctor. This penalises those patients who need healthcare the most.
Unlike most medical specialties, GPs are at the forefront of patient healthcare. They see almost 90% of the Australian population in a year, including many of society’s most vulnerable people, such as those with cancer, dementia, pensioners, Indigenous Australians, people on very low incomes, homeless, elderly, and people with mental illness.
This election is about health. Both major parties need to release their primary healthcare policy so Australians can decide.