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Sweeping changes needed to limit concussion impact: RACGP


Matt Woodley


21/02/2023 3:48:30 PM

More research, standardised clinical guidelines, enhanced Medicare support, and rule updates are among the recommendations.

Sports field with head injury incident
First aid responders at local sporting grounds should have increased training on treating concussion and head injury, the RACGP says.

Government and sporting bodies must do more to limit the long-term impacts of concussions and repeated head trauma, the RACGP has said.
 
The warning, contained in a detailed submission to the Senate inquiry into concussions and head trauma in contact sports, is the latest stand taken by the college in the space, following similar calls in its response to the National Dementia Action Plan.
 
Discussing the submission, RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins said more ‘can and should’ be done to prevent damage caused by concussions and head trauma.
 
‘We are learning more and more about the management of prolonged concussion symptoms, such as post-concussion syndrome and suspected chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, which many people may recognise from an increasing number of concerning media reports following the deaths of sports stars such as Danny Frawley and Shane Tuck.
 
‘CTE must be taken extremely seriously, and it isn’t just something that we need to worry about in adult sport, damage to the brain can happen at an early age whenever there are repeated knocks to the head.’
 
The RACGP’s submission recommends that sport governing bodies adapt the rules of contact sports, where relevant, to prioritise prevention of concussion in the first instance, while it also advocates for:
 

  • investment to support longer general practice consultations for people with concussion, repeated head trauma and other complex care needs
  • the development of standardised, evidence-based clinical guidelines for concussion, repeated head trauma and sub-concussive episodes
  • a uniform approach towards returning to sport, as well as player safety across all sports, via the establishment of specific and consistent requirements
  • significant funding towards clinical research into long-term impacts, and for the development of an Australian concussion registry
  • first aid responders at sporting venues to have increased training that focuses specifically on treating concussion and head injury
  • the definition of concussion to be clarified and standardised.
 
‘GPs play a vital role here and with greater support we can do even more to help patients suffering from concussion and head trauma,’ Dr Higgins said.
 
‘We are the ones often required to assess and provide clearance for patients to return to play following a concussion, such as a local footy player or netballer who has received a knock to the head.
 
‘The problem is that GPs are under the pump and the current Medicare structure devalues longer consultations, which is exactly what is needed for a person who has experienced a concussion or head trauma.
 
‘Applying a 10% increase to Medicare rebates for longer consultations and introducing a new 60-minute plus consultation Medicare item would make a real difference for GPs and practice teams managing these complex health issues.’
 
Dr Higgins also said there is still insufficient evidence to ‘fully understand and determine the long-term impacts of concussion and repeated head trauma’, which is why the college has said more research, as well as a clear and standardised concussion definition is required.
 
‘In addition, the development of an Australian-wide concussion registry will provide a valuable source of data to determine the long-term impacts of concussion and repeated head trauma,’ she said.
 
‘Through concerted action we can limit the damage caused by concussion and head trauma in communities across Australia.
 
‘As a GP and a parent of children who loves contact sport, I can tell you that we certainly don’t want kids and adults walking away from contact sport and sitting on the couch, but this must be taken seriously.’
 
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