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Calls for further recognition of GPs’ contribution to AOD workforce


Morgan Liotta


16/03/2022 4:45:30 PM

The RACGP’s latest recommendations include higher MBS rebates for AOD consultations and extended funding for its education program.

GP talking to a patient.
The college is calling for general practice’s increasing role in the treatment of alcohol and other drug use to continue.

The aim of Australia’s National Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) Workforce Development (WFD) Strategy has been to improve workforce skills to better reduce AOD-related harm and prepare the workforce for the future.
 
But since the 2015−18 Strategy, a number of important changes have impacted the sector, including general practice.
 
To address these changes, a second Strategy is currently in development and the RACGP this month provided feedback in a submission to the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction’s (NCETA) review and revision of the Strategy.
 
The college is calling for general practice’s increasing role in the treatment of AOD use to continue.  
 
Recommendations put forward include:

  • recognition of the key role of general practice and GPs in the Strategy
  • building upon support systems to help GPs manage and treat patients who present with AOD issues
  • improving collaboration and integration between GPs and specialist workers
  • funding the RACGP AOD GP Education Program beyond 2022
  • providing better MBS remuneration for GPs for time spent with patients with AOD issues.
The continued funding of the AOD GP Education Program is particularly crucial, the RACGP notes.
 
‘With more GPs supported and trained in how to support patients who present with AOD issues, GPs will be in a stronger position to intervene early and, by doing so, potentially decrease harm and reduce the pressure on the AOD workforce and sector,’ the submission states.
 
It was in 2019 that the college was granted Federal Government funding to develop and deliver the skills-based program to strengthen GPs’ capacity to address AOD substance use in their local community.
 
Based on a whole-person centred care approach, it draws on every GP’s existing strength and experience in chronic disease management, and management of presenting physical, psychological, and social factors.
 
Chair of RACGP Specific Interests Addiction Medicine, Dr Hester Wilson, who helped develop the program, said ongoing education for GPs is critical.
 
‘Problematic AOD issues cause significant harm in our communities,’ she told newsGP.
 
‘General practice is core to providing care for individuals and families experiencing harm for alcohol and other drug use, and the RACGP has been a leader in educating and supporting GPs to ensure they have the skills to do this work.
 
‘We need to continue to fund the current RACGP AOD training program that has successfully trained thousands* of GPs so far.’
 
In its submission, the RACGP also acknowledged the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a rise in mental health issues, family stress and domestic violence incidents increasing demand for AOD support, and significantly impacting the general practice workforce.
 
The college also highlights the flow-on effects of managing COVID-19 on GPs’ availability for regular health presentations, including substance use disorder management.
 
In recognition of the ‘wrap-around care’ role that GPs provide by supporting patients before, during and after they are referred to specialist AOD services, the RACGP is calling for improved collaboration and integration between GPs and AOD specialist services to ensure continuity of quality care.
 
‘We need to look for innovative ways to fund and strengthen collaboration and integration between GPs and specialist services, and consider additional MBS item numbers to appropriately remunerate GPs for this work,’ Dr Wilson said.
 
‘We need to fund research and evaluation to support this.’
 
Recruitment and retention of GPs to rural and remote areas also remains an ongoing challenge that the college is calling for action on, with GPs usually the only care option for AOD patients and often taking on the role of a multidisciplinary team due to a lack of resources.
 
To help address the high rates of AOD use in rural and remote areas, the RACGP argues collaborative care that supports GPs will help reduce the workload burden and improve patient outcomes.
 
Overall, effective and timely monitoring and implementation of the revised Strategy requires timely reviews and ongoing monitoring of relevant workforce sectors that help identify efficacy and acceptability of the strategy, the RACGP said.
 
This includes extended support for and collaboration with the AOD GP Education Program to monitor implementation of the Strategy in primary care.
 
*As of each of February 2022, program pathways completed by GPs as part of the RACGP AOD GP Education Program include:
 
Incentivised training (GP grant payments apply – applications close at the end of March 2022):
  Non-incentivised training (freely available to all RACGP members – will continue to be delivered throughout 2022): 
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