30 August 2022

RACGP welcomes urgent care announcement

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has welcomed the Victorian and NSW governments announcing a partnership to expand urgent care services through general practice across both states.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet today announced that 25 urgent care services will be established in partnership with local GPs to ease pressure on hospital emergency departments. It comes following the Victorian Government announcing last week that five GP clinics in Melbourne, Epping, Sunshine, Clayton, and Ballarat would reopen as priority care centres.

RACGP President Adj. Professor Karen Price said it was high time the state and federal governments worked together to create one health system. 

“There is a great deal of patient suffering when health is used as a political football and this plan signals an end to that, which the RACGP welcomes” she said.   

“This initiative begins implementing one of the aims of the primary health care 10 year plan. It makes sense for state governments to recognise the critical role general practice plays and the ability to work in the acute care and after-hours space, which is traditional territory for GPs working at full scope.”   

The RACGP President also called for this to be made available to every general practice in Australia.

“This level of care should never have been defunded in the first place,” she said.  

“Further, a nation-wide investment would enhance the evidence-based continuity-of-care model as we know most patients prefer to see their usual trusted GP.

“Our entire health system is under immense pressure. We still have significant numbers of people in hospital with COVID-19 and other viruses including influenza. In addition, GPs and general practice teams are grappling with catch-up care for those who have delayed consultations and health screenings during the pandemic, which has led to delayed diagnosis and worsening illness. The lost decades of insufficient investment in general practice care have never been more evident than during a pandemic. 

“Emergency departments in Victoria have hit crisis point, and we are seeing so many reports of ambulance ramping, code reds, and people waiting dangerously long to get the care they need. The RACGP has long been saying that general practice could work cooperatively to help ease the pressure on emergency departments.

“GPs need to be properly resourced to do the work we have been trained to do. General practice care, including preventive care work, costs far less than expensive hospital care. We are also aware that more needs to be done within hospitals to expedite those patients needing admission and an acute bed, as well as to embed long term preventive care to patients with chronic conditions so they rarely need the use of hospital services. The RACGP looks forward to the evaluation of these clinics and to work on the concept of the ‘one health system’ to create a seamless care journey for patients in need.”

RACGP Victoria Chair Dr Anita Munoz also welcomed the announcement but warned that general practice needed a helping hand.

“It is positive news that government is listening,” she said.  

“The RACGP has been calling for further investments into already existing general practices to allow them to undertake work they are capable of via extended hours and for category 4 and 5 emergencies, but which require funding that reflects the costs involved in providing such care in our communities.

“We have been clear that practices must not be made financially vulnerable through their participation in these programs, and that urgent care clinics are not for delivering usual care that is best delivered by a patient’s own GP. For the states to fund general practice activities indicates an understanding that innovative solutions to problems affecting our health system, including flexible funding arrangements, will be the way to provide the right health services to patients in the right place at the right time. 

“So, today’s announcement is a positive step forward. However, we must also implement genuine, long-term reforms to fix Australia’s ailing health system. That includes the federal Government substantially boosting investment in general practice care so that no patients are left behind. This would mean more GPs across Australia, more practices keeping their doors open, and more subsidised services for patients.

“The RACGP is also urging the Government to implement specific reforms to improve patient care in the short-term, including enhanced care for people over 65, patients with mental health conditions and disability. We also want to see investment in longer consultations for patients with complex needs, and support for patients to see a GP within seven days of an unplanned hospital admission – this would make a real difference in helping people avoid ending up back in hospital.”

The RACGP’s comprehensive list of advocacy priorities including greater investment in GP care can be found here.

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