The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) says that World Family Doctor Day is a timely reminder that general practice care needs a shot in the arm to ensure GPs can continue to meet patient needs.
World Family Doctor Day was first declared by the World Organisation of Family Doctors, known as WONCA, in 2010 and has become a day to highlight the role of family doctors and primary care teams in healthcare systems worldwide.
It comes just days before the Federal Election on Saturday 21 May. Earlier this year, the RACGP launched its Federal Election Statement that calls for the next federal Government to reform the health system to ensure practices can continue to meet the rapidly increasing patient care needs across Australia.
RACGP President Adj. Professor Karen Price said GPs had gone above and beyond to care for patients during the pandemic, but that there were growing cracks in the health system that urgently need fixing.
“During the pandemic, the Government said, ‘see your GP’ - because no one else could have done what general practice and their amazing teams did for their communities,” she said.
“We truly are the foundations of the nation’s health system without which nothing else in the health system works. The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on the essential role that GPs play in our communities; the numbers make it clear general practice does the heavy lifting. We are delivering more services than ever – over 171.5 million services were delivered to 21.8 million patients across Australia from 2020-2021, a considerable increase from around 163 million services in the previous year. When it comes to vaccinations, GPs again are responsible for providing the vast majority of jabs, including over 50% of the 58 million COVID-19 vaccines administered to date, and 69% of influenza vaccines already administered this year.
“It’s not just the pandemic that has contributed to the extra workload for general practice. We’re also dealing with rising rates of chronic disease, a mental health crisis, an ageing population, and more and more patients with multiple conditions who require complex, comprehensive, and ongoing care.
“Never before has the family doctor been so important, and yet we are facing a future where the long-term sustainability of general practice care is in jeopardy. The latest Deloitte General Practitioner workforce report 2022 makes for dire reading. Australia has an ageing and growing population and demand for GP services is projected to increase across Australia by 38% by 2032, with a staggering 47% projected increase in our cities. Despite this significant increase, the supply of GPs is predicted to fall, which will result in a shortfall of 11,392 GPs by 2032.
“The federal Government needs to act urgently and invest in general practice and our future GP workforce. We need long-term reforms and investment to ensure everyone in Australia has access to high-quality GP care, because patients deserve nothing less. The reforms the RACGP is urging the next federal Government to adopt will help improve patient health outcomes and access to high-quality care – this includes increasing Medicare rebates for patients who need longer appointments with their GP.”
The RACGP President said World Family Doctor Day was also a time to recognise GP contributions to healthcare.
“GPs are often dismissed as ‘generalists’ and not recognised for our contribution to the health system, and patient health outcomes,” she said.
“I note the words of Barbara Starfield, one of the most influential figures in primary care research, who said: ‘Evidence of the health-promoting influence of primary care has been accumulating ever since researchers have been able to distinguish primary care from other aspects of the health services’. GPs make a real difference, with research showing that having a regular GP leads to better health outcomes for patients, including better uptake of preventive care, increased access to care, and reduced healthcare use and costs.
“The importance of our specialist generalist care cannot be overstated, particularly with the rise of chronic illness, and more patients requiring complex care. While other specialists focus on treating specific conditions, you need one person – the GP – seeing the whole picture and treating the whole person. GPs are specialists in complexity; no other medical discipline deals with the complex multimorbidity that general practitioners do.
“I wish to thank all the GPs and general practice teams working tirelessly caring for patients across Australia on this day. I know it has been a tough few years, but always remember that your contributions are so important for the health of your patients, our communities, and our nation. Thank you.”
The RACGP’s Federal Election Statement calls for reforms to improve patient health outcomes, including:
· new service incentive payments to improve regular, continuous, and preventive care for older people
· increasing Medicare rebates for patients who need longer appointments with their GP
· retaining telehealth rebates for patients to have longer telehealth consultations with their GP via telephone
· a new service incentive payment for patients with mental health issues that supports the grouping of a services including a GP mental health treatment plan and a physical health assessment
· a new service incentive payment for people living with disability that provides for a health assessment and completion of National Disability Insurance Scheme reports and documentation
· introducing additional support for GPs to see their patient within seven days of an unplanned hospital admission or emergency department presentation
· greater investment in rural healthcare including increasing Workforce Incentive Programs with additional payments for GPs who use advanced skills in rural areas and providing access to the relevant specialty Medicare Benefits Schedule items when a GP holds advanced skills in areas such as mental health or paediatrics