The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is doubling down on calls for an urgent funding injection in the May Budget to improve access to GP care amid spiralling cost of living pressures.
It comes after the RACGP announced a plan for governments to address the current health crisis, with action now to stem the bleeding and long-term reform that ensures the future of GP care for all Australians. The College’s pre-Budget submission is available online here.
RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins said an urgent injection of funding for GP patients is critical.
“We’re in a crisis that demands action now,” she said.
“Funding has been ripped from general practice patients for decades, the Medicare freeze cost $2 billion and counting. And so now we’re seeing the decline of bulk billing, people across the country are struggling to get in to see their GP, and they’re being turned away from overloaded hospitals.
“And it’s at a time when spiralling inflation and cost of living pressures are forcing some people to make the impossible choice between spending on healthcare and other essentials.
“Australia prides itself on being the lucky country where everyone has a fair go. But without urgent action to stem the bleeding and improve access to care for Australians, inequality, and the gap between rich and poor will get much worse.
“Our pre-Budget Submission details recommendations for short-term action the federal government should prioritise to address the issues the health system is currently facing.”
This includes improving access to care by:
- tripling bulk billing incentives
- increasing Medicare patient rebates for longer, complex consultations by 20%
- funding enhanced primary care services for people over 65, with mental health conditions and disability
- support for patients to see their GP within seven days of an unplanned hospital or emergency department visit.
“We’re also continuing to call on government to reinstate patient rebates for longer telephone consults, for mental health and GP management plans. These services were unfairly taken away from patients and new research has found it’s hurting the most disadvantaged, those who are poorer, elderly, vulnerable and in need of complex care.*
“Meanwhile, GPs have been subsidising longer phone consults for disadvantaged patients and paying out of our own pocket, so they don’t miss out on care they need. This shouldn’t be happening, but our hands are tied.
Boosting the GP workforce
“We also need urgent action to boost the GP workforce, and we’re calling for a program supporting junior doctors to intern in general practice. Because we know those who get a taste of it are much more likely to become a GP – it is immensely rewarding work!
“But currently, medical students only get a mandatory placement in hospital, which makes no sense when you consider that more Australians visit a GP each year than any other health service.
Improving access to medicines
“We’re also calling on government to improve access to medicines for Australians, particularly due to ongoing pharmacist shortages in rural and remote communities. Current pharmacy ownership and location regulations are outdated and extremely anti-competitive, and this inflates the cost to consumers and makes it harder to get medicines.
“Supermarket pharmacies are widespread in most western nations, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and all over Europe. Why not here? Government should invest in a feasibility study to reform Australia’s anti-competitive pharmacy ownership and location laws to improve access to medicines and costs to consumers.
“Despite numerous reviews and reports on the need to remove pharmacy location and ownership rules, none of the recommendations have ever been actioned, so we need to revisit this now.”
GP stewardship of patient care best for health outcomes
The RACGP President also doubled down on warnings that any long-term funding reforms must strengthen GP stewardship of patient care.
“I am alarmed and troubled at some of the opportunistic arguments being put forward that the solution to this crisis is circumventing the proven model of GP stewardship of patient care,” she said.
“It might be a cheaper option at first, but who wants cheaper if it means a serious illness goes undiagnosed?
“If the current model is broken and GPs – the specialists in generalism, with well over 10-years training in diagnostics, treatment, and quality care – are no longer at the centre of patient care management, it’s people seeking care who will suffer most.
“This road will lead to worsening health outcomes and a NDIS-style cost blowout because services will be fragmented, duplicated and contradictory.
“The health of Australians must come first. We need GPs working hand in glove with allied health professionals, pharmacists, and practice nurses, and they should be supported within general practice, with GPs as the stewards of patient care.
“It’s even better for patients when multidisciplinary teams are located in the same practice, because you can get all your health needs met in one place. Practices across Australian have already been adopting this one stop care model, and it’s popular with patients and practitioners alike.
“I implore our political leaders to stand strong. Bandaid solutions and cheap quick fixes will not work. And frankly nobody deserves second rate care.
“We need serious investment in general practice care and long-term reforms that ensure all Australians have access to high-quality care, no matter their postcode or income.”
*Medical Journal of Australia, 2023 Long telephone consultations for GP appointments: evidence versus policy