09 September 2022

RACGP leaders rural tour of Western Australia to tackle healthcare workforce crisis

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) leaders are meeting with local GPs and health stakeholders across southern Western Australia to address the state’s healthcare workforce crisis.

RACGP Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements, WA Chair Dr Ramya Raman, and Rural Council Provost and National Rural Clinical Lead Dr Karin Jodlowski-Tan will travel to Busselton on Sunday 11 September, and go on to visit Bunbury, Collie, Katanning, and Narrogin to meet with GPs and other key health stakeholders.

The tour will finish in Perth on Wednesday 14th September, where they will attend a function for local GPs, and meet with WA’s health workforce agency Rural Health West Workforce Solutions and the WA Country Health Service.

It comes following ongoing reports of immense pressure on the state’s health system and hospitals in Perth being overrun and understaffed, with lengthy wait times and ambulance ramping. 

RACGP WA Chair Dr Ramya Raman said it was clear health funding needed urgent reform.

“This is a huge problem in WA, and across Australia where we are increasingly seeing overcrowded emergency departments, and dangerously long wait times for patients,” she said.

“GPs are also seeing more patients than ever. Which is why it’s so disappointing that Premier Mark McGowan keeps trying to shift the blame onto GPs for the state’s overburdened hospital system.

“A perfect storm of factors has led to this crisis, including COVID-19 and other winter respiratory viruses. However, at the heart of it is decades of underfunding and short-sighted politics, which has left our entire health system ailing.

“Health funding in Australia is skewed to focus on treating illness, rather than preventing it. Ongoing care, preventative care and early intervention is the work of GPs – and it saves lives, as well as being much more cost effective.

“Unfortunately, this type of healthcare has been undervalued by our governments for too long, and it’s increasingly unaffordable for patients. This is because Medicare patient rebates have not kept pace with inflation and don’t come near covering the cost of delivering high-quality care in communities across Australia.

“The underinvestment in general practice has also contributed to the GP workforce shortage, which is particularly severe in rural and remote WA. This is really concerning because the data shows that GP clinics are far better distributed across Australia than other specialists and healthcare professionals, including allied health, pharmacists and nurse practitioners – and so rural communities really rely on their local GP for the majority of their health and wellbeing needs.

“We need to re-think health funding in Australia, and boost investment in GP patient services, including Medicare-subsidised patient services. Because everyone needs access to high-quality ongoing and preventive care, no matter their postcode, and practices must be sustainable to keep their doors open and attract new GPs to meet their communities’ needs.”

Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements said he was looking forward to meeting with local GPs.

“Nobody understands the issues better than the GPs working hard in rural communities on the ground in WA,” he said.

“As the peak body for GPs across Australia, the RACGP is uniquely placed to address workforce shortages and improve access to care for communities by tapping into our members and listening to their concerns.

“We have been listening to our members, and we know years of underfunding and neglect has put general practice in crisis. Medicare patient rebates are far too low and forcing many practices to abandon bulk billing to keep their doors open.

“Rural Australia in particular has been hard hit, with clinics at risk of closures and an overreliance on fly-in fly out GPs.

“All communities need access to continuous, sustainable GP care. And we are calling on governments to implement the reforms needed to make this happen – governments need to act to put rural communities first.

"The transition of the Australian General Practice Training program back to the specialist colleges including the RACGP from February 1st 2023 is an opportunity to reform our GP training system, and improve the distributuion of GPs for the long-term benefit of communities Australia-wide.

"The College has developed a model for training which is locally tailored and delivered, and focuses on areas where there are workforce shortages.

“Continued support for college-led training from all sides of government is essential because it will make a real difference for the future of GP training, and communities across Australia.

“We are also calling on the federal Government to implement reforms in the short-term to improve access to care to those most vulnerable, including rural Australians.

“This includes increasing Workforce Incentive Programs with additional payments for doctors who use advanced skills in rural areas, and additional funding for GP supervisors to support GPs in training in rural communities – with the right support, we know GPs who train in rural communities are more likely to choose to stay living and working there, and so the communities win.”

The RACGP’s comprehensive list of advocacy priorities to improve primary care health outcomes in the short term are online here.

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