Expanded role and funding for GPs in managing COVID-19

Jolyon Attwooll

29/10/2021 11:24:51 AM

GPs will receive pulse oximeters and access to a new MBS item number in a plan designed to boost the role of primary care in managing the pandemic.

GP and patient in masks
GPs will be able to access new MBS number for $25 to help cover the extra cost of seeing COVID-positive patients in person.

New measures have been announced to help primary care manage COVID-19 in the community and reduce the burden on hospitals.
Under the Department of Health (DoH) plan, which was announced by the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt on Friday, a new MBS number for $25 will be introduced to help GPs cover the extra cost of seeing COVID-positive patients in person.
General practices will also be supplied with pulse oximeters from the national medical stockpile through Primary Health Networks to help the monitoring of symptomatic patients at home.
Minister Hunt also confirmed that 150 GP-led respiratory clinics around the country will stay in place until at least June next year, and that Healthdirect will support COVID-19-positive patient contact and triage.
He described the measures, which are part of a $180 million package to support primary care, as the ‘next phase as we open up’.
More people will be treated at home because they are fully vaccinated, Minister Hunt said.
‘They may not require hospitalisation, so the balance will shift from hospitalisation to community care,’ the minister told reporters. ‘To assist our GPs, we always knew we were coming to this moment. We are very pleased to be able to support them.
‘It’s a package we have worked on with the Royal Australian College of GPs and other members within the medical community.’
During the press conference, Minister Hunt again paid tribute to the work carried out by GPs as ‘the backbone’ of the pandemic response.
RACGP President Dr Karen Price, who appeared alongside Minister Hunt when the announcement was made, welcomed the new measures.
‘It is good news that the Federal Government has heeded the RACGP’s calls and introduced this suite of measures to help hardworking GPs care for COVID-19-positive patients,’ Dr Price said.
‘We must be upfront about the fact that COVID-19 cases are going to spike significantly across Australia. GPs stand ready to help, we have the right skills and expertise to continue caring for COVID-19-positive patients in the community.’
Dr Price said that while some patients, particularly those who are unvaccinated, will need hospital care, most will be able to be monitored at home as part of a triaging process – taking some of the strain off the public health system.
‘Our hospitals are already under enormous pressure, including caring for unvaccinated patients suffering from severe effects of COVID-19.
‘So it’s vital we do everything we can to keep patients out of hospital and that includes caring for people with COVID-19 in the community where possible.’
Dr Price welcomed the MBS item for face-to-face visits as ‘a positive step forward’ and said the use of Healthdirect for patient contact and triage was ‘important for national consistency’.
‘Many COVID-19-positive patients will be able to take advantage of telehealth services, including via video or telephone,’ she said. ‘Some consultations, however, need to happen in person and, when that is necessary, general practice teams will be working hard to maintain COVID-19-safe infection controls to keep staff and patients safe.
‘The new MBS item will help offset the cost of having these controls in place.’
Speaking at the press conference, Dr Price said the new measures are the result of unprecedented cooperation between different jurisdictions.
‘It also signals a new era in what I would call an integrated health system, in which the state health system, which is largely hospital-based, and the community health system ... are working together for Australia’s health system,’ she told reporters.
‘If there is a silver lining, I hope that’s one that will continue.’

Dr Price said it is essential for general practices to be kept informed when patients have contracted COVID-19 if the plan is to be successful. There have been numerous reports during the recent Delta outbreak, both in New South Wales and Victoria, where general practices have been unaware of patients with COVID-19.
‘We need to be told right away when one of our patients tests positive to COVID-19, not days or weeks later,’ Dr Price said. ‘Otherwise, we will see situations unfolding where patients are forced to call ambulances and taken to already over-stretched hospitals where this potentially could have been avoided.’
Other measures announced on Friday include moves to support the capacity of the hospital system to cope with an expected spike in cases, including measures to facilitate the recruitment of healthcare workers.
The new MBS item number has not yet been confirmed. This story will be updated as soon as newsGP has the details.
DoH measures that will affect GPs

  • GPs who are supervising COVID-positive patients will be supplied with pulse oximeters from the national medical stockpile to help the remote monitoring of symptomatic patients at home. This will be managed by the PHNs.
  • A new, temporary MBS item for $25 will be available to help general practices cover the extra cost of treating COVID-positive patients face-to-face and ensuring COVID-safe infection controls.  
  • The operation of the GP-led respiratory clinic network will be extended until the end of June 2022. The DoH says these clinics could be scaled up to help manage the care of COVID-positive patients face to face.
  • Home visits required to help avoid patients unnecessarily going to hospital – the management of which may not be possible for smaller practices and in areas with workforce shortages. Under the plan announced on Friday, PHNs will contract the provision of home visits through medical deputising services, nurse practitioners and practice nurses.
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Dr Aline Suan Lin Smith   29/10/2021 12:29:31 PM

$25 ?? are you serious....

Dr Monica Stella Maris Gantus De Whitton   29/10/2021 12:56:30 PM

I don’t understand how $25 increase is going to help us GP’s to look after patients face to face. Most GP offices are small with no windows. They can’t be upgraded to bigger spaces (lots of them in malls). Face to face with mask will still get us infected. Lots of us are above 60 yo. Telehealth is a lot better. What we can’t manage looking and listening on a webcam will have anyway to go to hospital. Maybe the solution is increase the admission wards in hospitals and train more RN to help with ventilators?

Dr Robyn Leigh Green   29/10/2021 1:10:48 PM

My concern is doing home visits for COVID positive patients with inadequate PPE.
Have any GP’s had their masks fit tested??

Dr Ian   29/10/2021 1:34:12 PM

It is summer so you can meet patients outside in a garden or with the doors and windows open a fresh air visit .
Rotten weather will be a problem so the weather bureau and rain radar maps will be important .
The home visit is to ensure that there is no difficulty breathing or new dizziness standing .
The pulse oximetry measures pulse rate also which is good but you have to wait a minute before the right reading are established .
Always good to have an oxygen on the visit to help the ambulance system .
The other decision is qualification for monoclonal antibodies if at risk even the doubly vaccinated .
They are even given now in the USA post exposure and every month for in particular the immunocompromised .
As CSL stops production of AstraZeneca - Monoclonal Antibody production ought be thought of .
CSL is already strong in HyperImmune Immunoglobulin .

Dr Martina Mary Gleeson   29/10/2021 2:28:50 PM

Hospital teams have been remote monitoring and now we are expected to see patients face to face? in our poorly engineered rooms with inadequate ventilation and vulnerable people in the waiting room? What we needed was block funding to our practice nurses to do remote monitoring, well being checks and escalate to medical review if needed.

Dr Daniel   29/10/2021 3:05:57 PM

25 bucks?

Pitiful to be frequently directly exposing yourself to delta and variants and bring home to family. Not for me thanks.

Dr David Zhi Qiang Yu   29/10/2021 6:04:46 PM

Dear President Price, your announcement to ask GPs to see COVID19 positive patients is one of worse decision!!! Have you consulted to most of members of RACGP yet!!! Most of the GP practices are not ready to see any COVID19 positive patients whether at the practice or go to their home to do face-to face visits. If seeing the positive patient at the practice, we do not have adequate negative pressure room, ventilation, or PPE for this propose. We also do not have adequate PPE to do the face-to-face home visit at the moment. Furthermore, to pay extra $25 to do the face-to-face consult is an insult to GPs!

Dr Moya Gaye Wood   29/10/2021 6:42:41 PM

You have got to be joking? Get real Greg Hunt.

Dr Jos   29/10/2021 7:16:07 PM

$25 is Definitely NOT worth risking my family with Covid19 and it's variants!

Dr Roslyn Beresford Doyle   29/10/2021 7:41:56 PM

Can you imagine an electrician or plumber visiting a Covid household for $25? Who do they think they are?

Dr Khaleda Yesmin   31/10/2021 7:51:03 AM

Dr. Price , worst plan and worst incentive for the GP , $ 25 are you serious, face to face looking after Covid positive patient? I disagree with this surprising news

Dr Alicia Kaczmark   1/11/2021 11:17:39 AM

We need to protect General Practice and expand respiratory clinics rapidly so that if anyone needs a f2f consult they are exclusively seen there. In regional locations they could still be 'seen' at respiratory clinics via telephone/telehealth to be appropriately triaged for f2f care. It may be handy for patients with complex medical conditions to have a health summary from their usual GP - which could easily be arranged either via referral or the practice nurse. If a practice becomes an exposure site because of inadequate protocols, or the patient simply ignores these protocols, then a community of patients will be without their General Practice whilst cleaning takes place. Furthermore patients may become hesitant to visit their GP if they feel there is any risk of covid 19 exposure.. which there will be given GPs will not have adequate PPE to see covid 19 patients. It's disgusting to place the responsibility of managing the pandemic onto GPs in this way, and it simply won't work.

Dr George Al-Horani   2/11/2021 8:19:33 AM

This is another real example that we really have no one to represent us , they make decisions while sitting in their offices ,while we are working hard to keep surviving and do our best to look after our patients , very inconsiderate decisions , really I have no words which can describe our Disappointment with whoever make these decisions on our behalf !!!! And yesterday they sending us a video to tell us that they care about our opinion in changing the logo of our RACGP !! While no one has taken our opinion in more vital announcements they make and we are the last people to know .
We need a new organization that really represent us & care about well being .

Dr Abbas Hussein   6/11/2021 8:47:10 AM

I agree with Dr. Al-Horani. If our leaders themselves do not value our worth than why expect the government to see the real worth. $25 and a pulse oxymeter is a joke and a slap in the face.

Dr Naomi Ruth Fraser   6/11/2021 5:01:48 PM

I have been a member of RACGP for 25yrs. Really wondering why. Have remained silent on a lot of bad decisions but $25 extra to see a Covid pos patient in General Practice is a joke. Agree with previous comments. We are just not set up for it. And if I test positive, unlikely to be too sick because vaccinated, I still can’t work for perhaps 2 weeks. My family needs to isolate at home with me...... GP respiratory clinics have been well funded. Keep General Practice safe and Covid free for our patients. Too many have already put off essential health checks. Telehealth is no substitute for in person consultations for non Covid patients. RACGP please get some backbone and put our case forward!

Dr Rosemary Anne Worland   7/11/2021 3:35:05 PM

Instead of lauding our eg “outstanding GPS - best at vaccinating our nation “ and now eg” best placed to use their expertise and treat Covid positive patients at home or in the surgery” the proposers should come clean and admit we are the “cheapest option” for these situations as we are for many more.. Mental Health , Complex Medical Conditions, Home Care, Aged Care ….
Especially feeling for our country GPS in this new proposed situation.. no wonder some are ready to down tools….

Dr Gobind Singh Duggal   7/11/2021 9:56:27 PM

How safe it is for Gp's to treat Covid 19 positive patients, so far ther is no stanadardised treatment from RACGP, AMA, other than treating symptomatically, major risk for Gp's and their family to be exposed to delta variant

A.Prof Christopher David Hogan   8/11/2021 12:52:10 AM

We are in a very difficult situation.
Caring for Covid affected patients would have been forced on us anyway- you only need to look at the number affected to see the system could not cope without us.
Careful reading of the media shows the federal government always wants more from GPs with often nothing in return e.g. The Medicare freeze & squeeze.
We are specialists but even though GP is more complicated, broader & more uncertain the non GP specialists are not subjected to the same financial torture or scrutiny.
It is a miracle that the herculean efforts from President Price & her colleagues that we were recognised as having a role in combating Covid ( I am deadly serious) let alone to get a contribution to PPE.
Our government is not swayed by arguments or even data- only ACTION
It is Politics 101 & Industrial Relations 101 that the only way we are going to get more remuneration (let alone a fair remuneration) for GPs is if GPs stop bulk billing every one!

Dr Mark Robert Miller   9/11/2021 10:32:54 PM

I would have liked Govt as we move into this new phase to have perhaps made some further infrastructure funding to General practices to see if they have capacity to put in a negative or partial negative pressure isolated consulting area, that could decrease risk to face to face consults and staff. As funding for dedicated respiratory clinics decreases it might allow safer capacity for consultation within practice. It could also help have primary care better prepared for the next pandemic if this type of facility became more normalized into community practice.

Dr Zakirul Islam   1/12/2021 11:00:46 AM

Our practice is small, small waiting room, elderly and immunocompromised pts would be waiting, can bring covid pos pts in my practice, also there are shortage of PPE.

Dr Irene Lai   7/01/2022 8:55:09 AM

I stand with my colleagues that are incredulous that the college has effectively put us under a bus. No consultation with GP members; practices are already overwhelmed with normal workload plus booster vaccines and now children’s vaccines. The reception staff are never off the phone with people calling in to report they are Covid positive, ask if they can book for boosters, children’s vaccines etc. There was the virtual hospital in the home which did not see patients face to face and if they needed to be seen in person they were advised to present to hospital.
Will we be paid compensation to isolate/ being away sick when we contract Covid? Will this also cover the costs for our partners being sick/isolating?
$25 for face to face consults with Covid patients is like the vaccination roll out of mandating bulk billing for any vaccination associated consults the RACGP agreed on with the government. GPs will do it because they feel it is in the public interest despite it being inadequate