17 June 2022

RACGP: Health review an opportunity to transform general practice care

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has urged the new Government to secure the future of general practice so that no patients miss out on the care they need.

It comes following today’s announcement after the meeting of National Cabinet that the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Professor Glyn Davis, will conduct a review of the nation’s health funding arrangements and investigate options for health system reform. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also announced that the new Government will extend COVID-19 Response funding arrangements until 31 December this year.

RACGP Vice President Dr Bruce Willett said that general practice care must be front and centre in the planned review.

“GPs and general practice teams are needed by our communities more than ever before and it’s essential that this review carefully considers the future of general practice care,” he said.

“The nation’s hospital system is operating under tremendous strain, and this requires urgent attention. However, the Government must also have front of mind that boosting investment in general practice care will relieve pressure on the entire health system and improve patient health outcomes.

“I understand that this review will identify practical improvements to the health system, including the connections between GPs and hospitals. It will also identify practical methods to get aged care residents and NDIS participants out of hospital and into more appropriate settings. That is welcome news and it’s essential that GPs have a prominent voice at the table when considering how to improve the operation of our health system.

"We have seen many reviews over the years, it is essential that the review results in a change that best supports Australians and the GP services on which they depend. We must get this right, otherwise patients will miss out on the care and support they need.”

The RACGP Vice President said that the review came at vital time.

“General practice certainly needs a helping hand so that no patient misses out,” he said.

“Over the last two-and-a-bit years we have helped patients during the Black Summer bushfires, COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine rollout and floods. These crises have reinforced how vital GPs and general practice teams are to their communities when disaster strikes.

“We are working under enormous pressure delivering COVID-19 vaccines and boosters as well as influenza vaccines amidst high community transmission of these viruses. GPs and general practice teams are also delivering routine health care, including childhood immunisations, treating patients who have delayed or avoided screenings and consults during the pandemic and helping people with mental health issues exacerbated by lockdowns and social restrictions. We are managing all of this at a time when Australia has an ageing population and rising rates of chronic disease such as diabetes and asthma.

“Unfortunately, Medicare rebates have not kept pace with the cost of providing high-quality general practice care. The Medicare rebate freeze set us back many years and is still felt by practices nation-wide today. What this means is that more and more practices will be forced to move from bulk billing to private or mixed billing for many patients.

“The lack of investment in general practice has also had a detrimental impact on the GP workforce. Simply put, not enough future doctors are opting for a career in general practice and if we don’t reverse this trend, it will become even harder for many patients, particularly those in rural and remote communities, to access the care they need when they need it.

“So, this review is a great opportunity to give general practice a much-needed shot in the arm and improve patient health outcomes. Earlier this year, the Community Affairs References Committee interim report recommended the federal Government investigates substantially increasing Medicare rebates for all levels of general practice consultations. The new Government should take on board this recommendation, which would make an enormous difference for the future viability of practices across Australia.

“The RACGP looks forward to engaging in discussions with the new Government about how to boost general practice, which would significantly enhance patient care. Together, we can work to transform general practice and ensure no patients are left behind.”

The RACGP Election Statement, Pre-budget submission and submission to the Primary Health Care 10 Year Plan (July and November) all highlight why investment in general practice is more important now than ever before.

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John Ronan

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