The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has welcomed the federal Opposition’s plan to invest $970 million in general practice care in communities across Australia.
This morning, Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese and Shadow Minister for Health Mark Butler announced that a Labor Government would dedicate $250 million per year ($750 million total) to a “Strengthening Medicare Fund”, which includes additional support for general practice chronic disease management, complex care, team-based care, and after-hours care. To implement the Strengthening Medicare Fund, which includes a voluntary patient enrolment model, a taskforce will be formed and chaired by Shadow Health Minister Mark Butler with reporting to be finalised by July 2023.
$220 million has also been allocated to practice infrastructure grants (Tier 1 grants of $50,000 and Tier 2 grants of $25,000). The grants can be used for improvements such as upgrading IT systems to support telehealth consultations, upskilling staff, improving ventilation and infection control, and purchasing new equipment.
It comes following RACGP warnings that vital components of the Primary Health Care 10 Year Plan, including improved coordination of care for patients with chronic and complex health needs, remain unfunded. Failure to meaningfully invest in this plan will result in gaps identified by the RACGP and other health groups not being addressed.
RACGP President Adj. Professor Karen Price welcomed the announcement.
“Today’s announcement is positive news. Until now, we had not seen a commitment by either major party to meaningfully invest in general practice patient care,” she said.
“Whilst we need to see further details of the scheme, the RACGP will work with the Opposition should they form government. We need to ensure all investments will work in practice for clinicians and achieve high-quality patient care.
“Ask any GP and they will tell you that they regularly see some patients with multiple chronic conditions as different problems arise week to week over a long period of time. Enshrining continuity of care and drawing on the best available evidence base to help achieve long-term patient health outcomes are vital components of achieving necessary health system reform.
“It is vital that the taskforce chaired by Shadow Health Minister Butler is led by GPs and consumers. This will help avoid unintended consequences by making sure there is a vital feedback loop back to government. It is great news that GPs and general practice teams will have a seat at the table because we will be the ones making sure that this model is functioning effectively and reaping beneficial outcomes for the patients who need it most.”
The RACGP President said that investment in general practice infrastructure was also sorely needed.
“Practices across Australia are needed by their communities more than ever before so these grants could not come at a better time,” she said.
“Infrastructure grants could well be a welcome boost for many exhausted GPs and general practice teams, though once again we will need to examine the finer details. Practice infrastructure is so important because practices take on such a wide range of functions and responsibilities. We already know that 50% of practice owners are concerned about long-term practice viability; so, this is helpful, and recognises the major issues general practice has been facing. As we speak, practices are delivering COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, influenza vaccines as well as routine childhood immunisations and caring for patients who have delayed or avoided consultations and screenings during the pandemic.”
Adj. Professor Price urged whoever forms government to go even further in boosting primary care investment.
“Australia needs visionary reform and large-scale improvements to Medicare and general practice funding,” she said.
“We are looking for big picture structural reform that will transform patient care and secure the future viability of general practice patient services. We cannot afford as a nation to lose GPs, because we are the bedrock of any high-functioning health system. The measures announced today are welcome but whoever forms government needs to go further and implement the steps outlined in our Vision for general practice and a sustainable healthcare system. Detailed modelling of the vision revealed estimated benefits of a billion dollars in the first year, at a minimum, and at least $5.6 billion over the next five years.
“I also strongly encourage whoever forms government to take a close look at our Election Statement and invest in the key policy priorities outlined. We are calling for several reforms to boost general practice care and improve patient health outcomes, including a GP consultation within seven days of an unplanned hospital admission to help keep patients healthy in the community.
“The RACGP is also calling for 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. This will allow GPs to spend more time with patients and really get to the bottom of what is going on.
“In addition, the college is advocating for new service incentive payments to provide regular and preventive care for older patients, people with mental health conditions and those with a disability. The solutions to improving our health system are right in front of us, we just need the conviction to follow through and deliver on the reforms that will make such a difference for patient care across Australia.”
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.