In December 2019, the RACGP released its 2020-21 federal pre-budget submission. Following policy and funding decisions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the RACGP has raised matters for urgent consideration in its 2020-21 pre-budget update submission.
The RACGP has called on government to:
- extend Medicare subsidies for telehealth and telephone consultations beyond 30 September
- implement voluntary patient enrolment to enhance continuity of care
- help GPs care for patients with chronic and complex conditions via longer consultations
- provide additional Medicare subsidies for mental health RACGP spokesperson Dr Bruce Willett said that now was the right time to give general practice a shot in the arm.
“The long-term health consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic are unknown but likely to be severe. That includes the effects of patients delaying or avoiding care, an increase in mental health concerns and the impacts of the virus itself on long-term physical and mental wellbeing.
“Primary care will be absolutely essential in managing the health of our communities in the months and years ahead but GPs need the right support to do so.
“Each year, GPs provide care to nearly 90% of Australians, yet general practice represents less than 13% of federal government health expenditure.
“This must change now because GPs provide the long-term care needed to improve the health trajectory of patients, keeping them well and out of hospital. The pandemic has placed an enormous strain on our healthcare system and led to many people suffering from poorer health outcomes – if we want to get on top of these problems we need to boost investment in primary care.”
Dr Willett said that the right investments would make an enormous difference for many patients.
“Many aspects of healthcare policy are complicated, but this is strikingly simple – a boost to primary care funding would allow more people to access quality care from their GP and lead to better health outcomes for patients as well as reduced healthcare expenditure.
“We have clearly laid out where government should provide greater support for general practice and improve patient health.
“During the pandemic many patients have avoided seeing their GP for new symptoms or serious existing conditions. Expanded telehealth and telephone consultations are proving crucial for many patients so we need flexible telehealth services to be widely available beyond 30 September this year.
“Ensuring patients have continuity of care with a usual GP is essential. It results in more patients addressing their health concerns at first instance before they become more severe and require secondary care.
“A voluntary patient enrolment system, where clinics receive additional payments for ‘enrolling’ a patient with a regular GP, would enhance comprehensive care for more patients and reduce hospitalisations for those who frequently visit GPs.
“The delay in rolling out this funding system is unfortunate because the patients who will benefit the most from voluntary patient enrolment are those most at risk of the COVID-19 virus. That includes older Australians and people with chronic disease.
“The pandemic has also put immense strain on many people and led to more patients experiencing mental health concerns. To help these people we need longer consultations so that GPs can take the time to talk through what our patients are experiencing and how we can help them.
“The health impats of the pandemic on the overall health of the population will be long-lasting and GPs on the frontline need all the help they can get. Our plan will provide them with the resources they need to do just that.”
The RACGP’s Vision for general practice and a sustainable healthcare system outlines how greater investment in primary care will reduce the need for more expensive secondary care and enhance the nation’s productivity through a healthier workforce. It will also promote health equity for demographic groups who disproportionately rely on secondary care including treatment in hospitals.