13 May 2022

RACGP: Governments must act to support the future of Tasmanian general practice care

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has today urged the federal and Tasmanian governments to secure the future of general practice care so that all patients can access high-quality care regardless of their postcode.

It comes following RACGP CEO Mr Paul Wappett and the college’s Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements joining RACGP Tasmanian Chair Dr Tim Jackson and President of the Australian Medical Students Association Jasmine Davis on a visit to Hobart and communities in the south of the state including the John Street Medical Practice in Kingston, Ochre Health in Huonville, and the Cygnet Family Practice. They met with GPs, general practice teams and patients to discuss what is needed to ensure the long-term viability of Tasmanian general practice care ahead of the weekend’s Practice Owners National Conference in Hobart.

Mr Wappett said that the trip was an opportunity to learn more about the state of general practice in Tasmania.

“It’s wonderful to be in Tasmania alongside our Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements and Tasmanian Chair Dr Tim Jackson meeting with GPs, practice managers, nurses, receptionists and administrative staff and talking to people in the community,” he said.

“It’s also great to have Jasmine Davis from the Australian Medical Students Association with us. At the RACGP we are keenly aware that we need to have a strong focus on medical students and work with AMSA to secure the future of GP workforce. By introducing Jasmine to these practices, we are hoping to get her thoughts on how the college can encourage an interest in general practice.

“The RACGP is working as hard as possible to support our Tasmanian members and the patients they care for. Last month, our President Adj. Professor Karen Price joined Tim Jackson on a three-day tour which included Hobart, Bridgewater, Latrobe, Burnie, Wynyard, Devonport, Ulverstone, and Launceston. The fact-finding visit really reinforced how vital general practices are to communities across the state and I intend for more RACGP representatives to visit Tasmania regularly and listen carefully to what healthcare professionals and patients are telling us.

“GPs and general practice teams are doing a tremendous job in Tasmania, and they have never been needed more by their communities. Practices are busy delivering COVID-19 vaccines, boosters, and influenza vaccines ahead of what could well be a particularly bad flu season and seeing a lot of patients who have delayed or avoided screenings and consultations during the pandemic.

“What practices across the state need is a helping hand from government and the RACGP has solutions at the ready. Earlier this year, we released our Election Statement which outlined a series of measures the federal Government could adopt to give general practice a shot in the arm. This includes a 10% increase to Medicare rebates for Level C consultations, which last at least 20 minutes, and Level D consultations, which last for at least 40 minutes, as well as introducing a new Medicare item for longer consultations lasting more than 60 minutes.

“If we don’t see greater investment in general practice, some practices will be forced to either shut up shop or pass the cost along to patients. No one wins in this scenario, but many practices have their hands tied because Medicare rebates simply haven’t kept pace with the cost of providing high-quality general practice care.

“I’m excited to talk to local practices about the move to college-led training next year, which is fast approaching. The college is mindful of findings in the interim Senate report, which noted the importance of engaging with GP training organisations. We’re working closely with RTOs, including General Practice Training Tasmania and other stakeholders, to ensure a smooth transition to college-led training and the best outcomes for GP training and the communities that practices serve.

“I’m also very much looking forward to the Practice Owner’s National Conference this weekend. This is a great opportunity for GP practice owners, practice managers and those looking to move into practice ownership to connect with each other and share ideas on how to navigate the challenges facing practice owners. I plan to talk to as many GPs and practice managers as possible to learn about how the RACGP can fight for them and make their job that little bit easier.”

Dr Jackson said that investing in general practice would improve patient health outcomes across Tasmania.

“Giving general practice a funding boost will relieve pressure on the state’s entire healthcare system,” he said.

“Patients in some communities are presenting to emergency departments for health concerns that should really have been managed earlier by a GP. When this happens you have ‘ramping’ and crowded hospital corridors, which can put patient care and safety at risk.

“What we want to do is make sure patients can see a GP when health problems emerge. If people are putting off or avoiding consultations due to cost or poor accessibility, this flows through the entire healthcare system and the long-term patient health outcomes can prove disastrous. A properly funded primary care system can make all the difference.”

Dr Clements said that rural, regional, and remote general practice care in Tasmania needed a shot in the arm.

“In Tasmania and indeed right across Australia, too often the healthcare needs of people outside of major cities are overlooked and that must change,” he said.

“Something that would make a real difference for rural, regional, and remote general practice care is long-term financial sustainability. Just last month, an interim report into GP and related primary health services to outer metro, rural, and regional Australians recommended the federal Government investigates substantially increasing Medicare rebates for all levels of general practice consultations.

“This would be hugely beneficial for practices in the bush struggling to make ends meet. If they are forced to close or move to private billing or mixed billing, this is especially problematic because many communities won’t be able to look elsewhere – they have no other choice.

“There are many other steps governments can take to help practices across Tasmania in rural, regional, and remote areas. Something that is front of mind for many GPs and general practice teams outside of major cities is workforce challenges, we simply don’t have enough GPs in the bush. That is why the RACGP has been calling on the Tasmanian Government to introduce a state-level package to attract more GPs to non-metro communities.

“The Government could put in place a grant encouraging them to train in communities where they are needed most. We also know that programs such as Avenues to Rural, and the RACGP’s Practice to Practice allow GPs to experience rural, regional, and remote general practice and develop comprehensive skills under the watchful eye of a mentor.

“I strongly support a whole-of-community approach to settle GPs into these communities, because we need to consider the circumstances of GPs tempted to make this move and make it as smooth a transition as possible. This could include assistance finding somewhere a place to buy or rent, schools and partner employment, children, funding for relocation and more. The RACGP will continue to work in partnership with the Tasmanian Government to ensure that general practice care has a strong future.”

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