GPs crucial to rare cancer care: RACGP

Michelle Wisbey

13/09/2023 3:07:51 PM

Key reforms are needed to help GPs better diagnose and treat patients, according to the college’s submission to a Senate Inquiry.

Cancer patient speaking with doctor in clinic.
The RACGP’s submission says government policy must reflect the vital role GPs play in diagnosis, screening, treatment, and care coordination of patients.

The RACGP is calling for GPs to be ‘front and centre’ when it comes to helping patients living with rare cancers.

In its submission to a Senate Inquiry into the topic, the college said governments must implement critical reforms to better help GPs and practice teams improve the health and wellbeing of people diagnosed with less common cancers.
The ‘equitable access to diagnosis and treatment for individuals with rare and less common cancers, including neuroendocrine cancer’ inquiry was launched earlier this year, tasked with examining:

  • barriers to screening and diagnosis
  • barriers to accessing appropriate treatment
  • adequacy of support services after diagnosis
  • adequacy of Commonwealth funding for research.
RACGP Expert Committee – Quality Care Chair Professor Mark Morgan said government policies must reflect the vital role GPs play in the diagnosis, screening, treatment, and care coordination of patients with a rare cancer.
‘GPs are often the first point of contact for people with rare diseases and if we are included in the care of patients with cancer this will ultimately improve the quality of care they receive and their overall wellbeing,’ he said.
‘It is vital that patients with cancer are encouraged to see their GP during their treatment to monitor progress and ensure that other health conditions and preventive screens are not overlooked.’
The college’s submission called for a shared model to improve care for those with complex chronic conditions to better enable GPs to work collaboratively with other healthcare professionals.
It acknowledged the inclusion of a new MBS item for consultations lasting more than an hour, included in this year’s Federal Budget, but said it still rewards shorter, episodic care.
‘The MBS also doesn’t adequately support direct communication between GPs and other specialist providers, leading to an overreliance on periodic letters or waiting for MBS-funded consultation visits,’ Professor Morgan said.
‘Basically, patient care coordination is not funded under this system.
‘What we really need is more investment in the MBS and the introduction of payment models to better support longer complex consultations and shared care to get the best possible results for our patients.’
The college also wants an expansion of the HealthPathways system, which offers clinical guidance for assessing and managing a patient with a particular symptom or condition.
Professor Morgan said Australia has come a long way in treating and caring for people with rare and less common cancers, but there is still room for improvement.
‘Ask any GP and they will tell you that rare and less common cancers can be challenging to diagnose and it’s difficult to identify patients who are at higher risk of rare cancers to institute regular surveillance,’ he said.
‘We also back further funding to investigate the feasibility of an urgent cancer referral system that includes people with suspected rare and less common cancers, like the one that operates in the United Kingdom.
‘Under that system, anyone with symptoms that might indicate cancer is seen by a relevant specialist within two weeks, which means patients benefit from early diagnosis and earlier access to treatment.’
The RACGP also called for public funding of its ‘Guidelines for preventive activities in general practice 9th edition’ (the Red book), saying it is a critical source of advice for GPs and other healthcare professionals.
Submissions into the inquiry have now closed, with the committee set to release its final report in March next year.
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