The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has welcomed the focus on community-based health services and says the proposed GP urgent care clinics should build on existing infrastructure and utilise established general practices.
Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has promised 50 urgent care clinics intended to ease pressure on emergency departments, with treatment to be bulk billed at a cost of $135 million over four years.
The urgent care clinics will be based in general practices and community health centres and will be able to treat non-life-threatening injuries such as sprains, broken bones, wounds, minor ear and eye problems and minor burns.
RACGP President Adj. Professor Karen Price said she was happy to explore a model that builds on existing clinics and infrastructure.
“While we need to work through the detail of this proposal, a model that seeks to reduce duplication of primary care services and build on existing general practice clinics and infrastructure is something we would be happy to explore,” she said.
“No new initiatives should fragment care. We have long been calling for support for after-hours access for acute care in general practice – this should take place in suitably resourced GP-led clinics, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
“I also want to stress that a pilot must not end there, and if it is successful, it should be rolled out to general practices around the country.
"We are all too aware that the health system is under enormous strain right now, and that more support is needed urgently.
“This is due to the impacts of the pandemic, including patients avoiding consults and screening, which has led to worsening health conditions and delayed diagnosis. On top of this, Australia is grappling with rising rates of chronic disease, an ageing population, and a mental health crisis.
“We need to ensure resources are directed to the right locations and the communities that need it most.
“I want to stress also that easing pressure on our health system requires more than just physical infrastructure. Ensuring there is adequate support for the general practice workforce is key. We need more highly trained specialist GPs on the frontline to provide the care that people need.”
The RACGP President said broader support for general practice was needed to ensure access to care for all patients.
“General practice needs a shot in the arm to ensure every patient can access the care they need,” she said.
“The RACGP is calling for a number of reforms to boost general practice and improve patient health outcomes, including a GP consultation within seven days of an unplanned hospital admission to reduce readmission chances and help keep patients healthy in the community.
“We’re also calling for federal investment in longer consultations for complex cases, improved support for continuous and preventive care for vulnerable Australians, particularly for people in aged and disability care, patients with mental health issues, and greater incentives for rural GPs to gain and maintain additional skills to benefit their community.
“The reforms we’re calling for in our Vision for general practice and a sustainable healthcare system would benefit patients in communities right across Australia, ease pressure on emergency departments, and lead to savings of at least $1 billion within a year for the health system.
“Everyone deserves access to high-quality and affordable healthcare, no matter their postcode. It’s time for government to enact the reforms needed to make it happen.”
The RACGP’s Federal Election Statement is available online here.