Federal Government responds to calls to extend telehealth

Matt Woodley

15/03/2021 3:49:26 PM

The extension is part of $1.1 billion in funding to ‘build on Australia’s existing response to COVID-19’.

GP's hand dialling the phone
Funding has been set aside to extend the scheme until at least the end of June.

The scheme’s temporary extension was originally due to end this month, but over the weekend the Federal Government announced $1.1 billion in funding to build on Australia’s existing response to COVID-19, including continued access to telehealth until at least 30 June.
GPs and patients alike have embraced the service, while the college also welcomed Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt’s November declaration that ‘universal whole-of population telehealth’ would become permanent.
To date, more than 51 million telehealth services have been delivered to 13 million patients, while more than 82,000 providers have used telehealth services nationwide.
However, concerns over its long-term future grew as the March deadline approached but no details were released, leading the RACGP to call for an extension in order to provide GPs peace of mind ahead of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
‘The pandemic’s put a lot of challenges on general practices, and they responded really well to the challenges and trying to keep our patients safe and also to keep our staff safe,’ Dr Michael Wright, Chair of the RACGP Expert Committee – Funding and Health System Reform (REC–FHSR), previously told newsGP.
‘Telehealth has been an integral part of that.
‘But GPs needs certainty that telehealth is going to continue and that it’s viable in the long-term. Only then can we fully integrate telephone and video consults into our usual business practices.’

In a media release announcing the temporary extension, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the funding commitment will ensure key measures regarding physical distancing and hygiene remain in place throughout 2021, even as vaccinations roll out over the coming months.
‘Australia’s suppression strategy has been extremely successful to date, particularly when compared with the devastation caused by the virus in many places overseas,’ he said.
‘Australia’s remarkable performance in saving lives is evident – we have the second lowest case rate and third lowest mortality rate amongst countries in the OECD.
‘[The] focus on containing the virus through testing, tracing and border and travel measures … has helped stop the spread of COVID-19.’
The announcement also states that the Government will ‘continue to review the ongoing role of COVID telehealth to support the pandemic in the short-term’, as it continues to plan the ‘permanent post-pandemic telehealth arrangements’ with peak doctor groups.  
Part of the funding will also support GP-led respiratory clinics, which have delivered more than one million consultations and conducted 934,600 COVID-19 tests, and electronic prescription services.
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