15 March 2022

RACGP: South Australian election an opportunity to boost general practice care

Ahead of the upcoming state election, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is calling for action in South Australia to give general practice a shot in the arm and institute reforms that will improve patient health outcomes.

It comes following ongoing reports of “ramping” at Adelaide’s hospitals and hospital overcrowding. Problems impacting the entire health system often fall in the lap of GPs and general practice teams, who care for people who have experienced delayed elective surgery or not received timely care when rushed to hospital.

The RACGP is calling for funding for grants and programs supporting GPs to work in rural and remote areas and for the role of GPs as frontline health providers to be formally recognised in crisis preparation, response, and recovery plans

RACGP South Australia and Northern Territory Chair Dr Danny Byrne said that all parties, members, and candidates should make general practice a priority this election.

“GPs and general practice teams are not always front of mind come election time and that must change,” he said.

“We go about our work quietly and don’t make a lot of noise, so the pressures facing general practice don’t often receive a lot of attention from our politicians. There are numerous steps that could be taken to boost the general practice workforce and ensure that patients everywhere, regardless of their postcode, have adequate access to high quality care from their local GP.

“General practice does fall predominantly under federal jurisdiction; however well-funded general practice reduces the incidence of acute illness. State and territory governments, including this one here in my home state of South Australia, can and should play a key role in supporting general practices and alleviating pressure on the entire healthcare system, including hospitals.

“It’s in everyone’s interest for state and territory governments to help invest in high quality general practice care because we know it improves patient outcomes, lowers mortality rates and hospital admissions, and reduces the use of more expensive health services. In South Australia, too many people are presenting to emergency departments for health concerns that could have been managed by a GP and this only worsens problems like ‘ramping’ and hospital overcrowding.

“The cost of a non-urgent emergency room presentation, one that could have been handled by a GP, is estimated at $540 compared to a 40-minute GP consultation which is $111.50. So, you do the maths – it makes sense to enhance general practice accessibility and do everything possible to encourage patients to have their health conditions seen to by a GP at first instance before their condition deteriorates.”

Dr Byrne said that there were positive steps that could be taken to boost general practice across the state.

“Whoever takes power after the election could fund initiatives aimed at training, attracting, and supporting GPs in South Australia,” he said.

“A state-level package could be developed including a grant encouraging doctors to train in specific locations where GPs are few and far between. We know that GPs who have been working in metro areas but are interested in working in a rural or remote community, need help to do so. Programs including Avenues to Rural, and the RACGP’s Practice to Practice allow GPs to experience rural and remote general practice and develop new skills under the watchful eye of a mentor.

“Practice to Practice encourages practices and individual GPs to form relationships, which may involve regular locum support for rural and remote practices. Funding to support these types of initiatives would provide a pathway for more GPs to confidently work in rural and remote areas. Also, measures that support a whole-of-community approach to settle GPs into rural and remote communities, for example support for finding accommodation, childcare, education and partner employment, and funding for relocation, would make a real difference.”

The RACGP South Australia and Northern Territory Chair said that GPs must always be front of mind when public health crises strike.

“GPs and general practice teams have done a remarkable job helping patients throughout the pandemic and we remain the backbone of the vaccine rollout in 2022,” he said.

“Unfortunately, when health crises strike, GPs and their teams are not always front of mind for governments, and this restricts what we can do. In our submission to the 2020 Senate inquiry into the nation’s response to the pandemic, we made the point that GPs were not always properly embedded in the wider response. That’s because state and territory governments managed the health crisis response, and the federal government has responsibility for general practice.

“Let’s learn from this and make sure that GPs and general practice teams are front of mind in South Australia next time there is a public health emergency. The role of GPs as frontline health providers must be formally recognised in terms of preparation, response, and recovery. 

“It’s not enough to only invite us in the consultation phase, we need the funding to back us so we can deliver on care. We’re not a government agency, and the reality is that delivering high quality care to all our patients costs money. Take personal protective equipment or PPE as an example, the lack of funding for this equipment in healthcare settings was, and still is, baffling.

“Remember, we are the ones picking up the pieces once crises hit our communities, including the fall-out from this pandemic in the years ahead. By better engaging with GPs, we can ensure a more coordinated and efficient response to health emergencies in the years ahead.”

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