03 May 2022

Townsville GP urges investment in general practice care

Royal Australian College of GPs Rural Chair and Townsville-based GP Dr Michael Clements has called on whoever wins government in the upcoming federal election to give general practice care a much needed shot in the arm.

Earlier this year, the RACGP launched its Federal Election Statement that calls for continuous and comprehensive GP care that includes:

  • 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

Dr Clements said that patients in Townsville and the surrounding region deserve nothing less.

“The future of general practice care should be front and centre in this campaign,” he said.

“Often during election campaigns, GPs and general practice teams are taken for granted and that must change. GPs, practice managers, nurses, receptionists, and administrative workers are needed now by patients in Townsville and surrounding areas more than ever before. Practices are delivering COVID-19 vaccines and boosters as well as influenza vaccines, caring for people with COVID-19 as well as those patients who have delayed or avoided consultations and screenings during the pandemic. We are also helping people with mental health concerns exacerbated by the stresses associated with the pandemic.

“The pressures facing general practice have not sprung up overnight either. It’s important to remember that we were already facing an ageing population, rising rates of chronic disease such as diabetes and more and more patients presenting with mental health concerns. There are fault lines in our health system that if not properly addressed will lead to patients in areas such as Townsville and surrounding areas not being able to access the care they need.

“In January this year, the Royal Australian College of GPs released our Election Statement. This statement outlines a series of reforms, including increases to Medicare rebates, that will enhance the efficiency of Australia’s health system and significantly improve long-term patient health outcomes. Everyone deserves access to high-quality general practice care, no matter their postcode and that includes people in my local area.”

The RACGP Rural Chair said that boosting general practice care would help ensure no one fell between the cracks of the health system.

“It’s vital that we boost investment in general practice care,” he said.

“Just a few weeks ago, a Senate Committee’s interim report into GP and related primary health services care in outer metro, rural, and regional Australia recommended the federal Government takes a good look at substantially increasing Medicare rebates for all levels of GP consultations, as well as other general practice funding options. That is music to the ears of GPs like me and general practice teams everywhere, it’s something we have been calling for over many years.

“The federal Government should increase Medicare rebates by 10% for Level C consults, which last at least 20 minutes, and Level D GP consults which last at least 40 minutes. This will allow us to take the time needed to care for patients in Townsville and surrounding areas with complex needs, such as those with mental health concerns and people with multiple chronic conditions like asthma. It’s also time for new Medicare item for longer consultations lasting more than 60 minutes so that we can take the time to get to the bottom of what is going on.

“Greater investment in high quality general practice care will enhance patient health and wellbeing and reduce hospital admissions. It’s simple to do the maths and realise that investing in general practice care makes sense, a non-admitted emergency room presentation is estimated at more than $500 compared to a standard GP consult at just over $39.”

Dr Clements said it was vital no patient was left behind.

“We must ensure that all patients can access the right kind of care and support they need,” he said.

“As a country, we need to do much more to improve the health and wellbeing of older people. The RACGP is calling for a new service incentive payment that helps support the provision of a grouping of preventative care services including a health assessment for older Australians and a frailty assessment. That will make a real difference for patients who are at huge risk of hospitalisation if, for example, they have a fall in their home.

“We are also calling for the Government to put in place a system so that every patient has a GP consultation within seven days of an unplanned hospital admission. This will improve continuity of care, ensure the GP is across whatever health condition led to the patient ending up in hospital and reduce the chance of readmission – it’s a win win for all concerned.

“The college is also strongly committed to making Medicare rebates for longer telephone consults a permanent fixture of our long-term telehealth system. Not all patients in Townsville and surrounding areas have the skills or access to the technology required for video technology consultations using platforms such as Skype or Zoom. If there aren’t rebates for longer telephone consultations, I’m concerned that some patient groups will miss out such as people in rural and remote communities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients, and older people.

“So I urge all parties and candidates to put general practice first, because our patients in Townsville and surrounding areas and across Australia deserve nothing less.”

Media enquiries

Journalists and media outlets seeking comment and information from the RACGP can contact:

John Ronan

Senior Media Advisor