06 October 2020

RACGP: Telehealth investment welcome but GPs need greater help managing health crises

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is urging the Federal Government to help general practice successfully manage the long-term health impacts of the bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last month, the RACGP welcomed the Government’s announcement that Medicare subsidies for telehealth consultations would be extended. Tonight’s budget has delivered on the telehealth extension promise and included $18.6 million for the preparation of permanent telehealth infrastructure beyond 31 March next year.

RACGP Acting President Associate Professor Ayman Shenouda said that the RACGP will work closely with government on a long term solution for telehealth post March 2021.

“General practice will be essential in helping patients affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We cannot be sure what path the COVID-19 pandemic will take, but we know that the long-term health consequences will be severe,” Associate Professor Shenouda said.

“These long-term health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will fall on primary care and so we expect a greater investment in primary care from the Government next year. Support for general practice care will see a healthier community, and in turn, a healthier economy with more people participating in the workplace.

“The summer’s bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic are having a huge impact on the mental health of many patients. GPs are the first port of call for these patients and if we are not adequately resourced to provide timely, accessible and culturally appropriate mental health services the results could prove dire.

“The $100.8 million invested in extending the doubling of Medicare-subsidised psychological therapy sessions for people who have used their initial 10 sessions is very positive.

“In the longer term, patients would benefit enormously from new Medicare subsidies for longer consultations so that GPs can take the time to talk through what our patients are experiencing and how we can help them.”

Associate Professor Ayman said that the budget contained a number of other promising measures for general practice.

"As the largest representative body of rural and remote GPs, the RACGP welcomes the $550 million investment to improve rural health. That includes funding to test for new models of primary care to address workforce shortages,” he said.

“We are also keenly focussed on improving health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people so we welcome the $14.4 million provided through the first grant round of the Indigenous Health Research Fund and $33 million to expand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander primary healthcare services. This will be invested in regions of high need or population growths or where there are currently service gaps.

“Finally, we applaud the $424.3 million dedicated to new research grants, including $10 million for primary healthcare research data infrastructure.”

The RACGP will be working closely with government leading into the next budget announcements to ensure that the health of Australians is kept front and centre.

The RACGP’s Vision for general practice and a sustainable healthcare system outlines how greater investment in primary care will reduce the need for more expensive secondary care and enhance the nation’s productivity through a healthier workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into stark focus how essential this vision is for the long-term health of the nation.

Media enquiries

Journalists and media outlets seeking comment and information from the RACGP can contact:

John Ronan

Senior Media Advisor