RACGP speaks out on lack of 10-year plan funding

Matt Woodley

7/04/2022 5:52:00 PM

‘Whoever forms government’ must invest in primary care or risk compromising the entire health system, says President Dr Karen Price.

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With the Federal Election due to take place next month, the RACGP has urged whoever forms government to properly invest in general practice, warning the situation is ‘critical’.
For college President Adjunct Clinical Professor Karen Price, time is of the essence as GPs and general practice teams already working under extraordinary pressure.
‘I’m not being overly alarmist when I say that the situation is critical,’ she said.
As I said on Budget night, we have already had three years of roundtables and discussions and negotiations. The talkfest must now come to an end, we need action.
‘Reform without proper investment is insufficient.
‘The future viability of general practice care is at stake, so unless strong action is taken to invest in general practice we will not be able to attract medical students to the specialty … and we will run out of GPs.’
The call follows the publication of Australia’s Primary Health Care 10 Year Plan 2022–2032 (the Plan), which was quietly released in the lead up to the Federal Budget but did not attract significant funding.
The college has subsequently warned that the Budget failed to fund the Plan, nor adequately address either the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic or the future challenges of a fatigued health system.
‘The Primary Health Care 10 Year Plan has finally arrived, and the challenge is right in front of us,’ Professor Price said.
‘In our submission to the draft 10 Year Plan, we stressed that high-quality care offered by GPs is at risk if substantial reform does not take place.
‘I urge whoever forms government to act decisively and secure the future of world-class general practice care for all communities by properly investing in the Plan so that patients don’t miss out on the care they need from their local GP in the years to come.’
Chair of the RACGP Expert Committee – Funding and Health System Reform (REC–FHSR), Dr Michael Wright, says the Plan contains many features supported by the college, but he also has doubts about certain aspects of it.
‘The college generally supports the vision and intent of this overarching plan,’ he said.
‘We are supportive of more GP training places … [and] the implementation of the National Roadmap for Improving the Health of People with Intellectual Disability.
‘The RACGP also welcomes the fact that there is a specific action area focused on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health … [but] does have some reservations concerning some of the finer details of the Plan.
‘There is no clear mention of additional funding for general practice and many of the commitments that the RACGP and other health bodies support are framed as things to potentially “consider”.’
Dr Wright also believes voluntary patient enrolment should play a key role in general practice care in the years to come, but qualifies the statement by saying fee for service must be central to any model of care.
‘Further, the plan doesn’t address our concerns that any voluntary patient enrolment model must be targeted towards supporting GPs to deliver high-quality care, rather than limiting expenditure,’ he said.
‘The Plan [also] notes that as access to and useability of technology improves, the [Federal] Government would expect increased use of video technology to deliver GP telehealth services. We need to remember that there are patients who do not have the skills nor access to the technology required for video consultations.
‘This is especially the case for patients with increased health needs, such as patients in rural and remote communities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and older Australians.
‘Telephone consultations remain the only way for these people to access remote care and for this reason it is crucial to permanently reinstitute Medicare rebates for longer telephone telehealth consultations.’
Professor Price is another who wants to see more detail on the Plan’s funding, to ensure that it makes a difference in supporting quality general practice services.
‘To be effective, we need to have multi-source funding options in addition to the maintenance and enhancement of our current fee for service model,’ she said.
‘Investment is critical and will support the provision of essential team-based services, ensuring high-quality care for vulnerable patients.
‘We can’t look at this in isolation; if the Plan is not implemented through real investment every single part of the health system will be compromised for years to come.’
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