Labor promises nearly $1 billion in general practice funding

Matt Woodley

14/05/2022 10:42:02 AM

If elected, the Federal Opposition has said it will spend $750 million to strengthen Medicare, as well as give out $220 million in practice infrastructure grants.

Picture representing Medicare funding.
The funding is designed to improve patient access to general practice care and help upgrade infrastructure.

The funding commitment follows calls from a wide variety of healthcare bodies, including the RACGP, for both sides of politics to invest more in healthcare.
According to a release issued by Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, a Labor Government would dedicate $250 million per year over the next three years to a ‘Strengthening Medicare Fund’.
‘General practice is the cornerstone of the Australian health system,’ Opposition Leader Albanese said.
‘[But] every day, everywhere I go, people talk to me about how it’s getting more and more difficult to see a doctor.
‘Labor has a plan to make it easier for Australians to see their GPs and to strengthen Medicare.’
The overall $750 million commitment has been earmarked to provide additional support for general practice chronic disease management, complex care, team-based care, and after-hours services.
A further $220 million in practice infrastructure grants (Tier 1 grants of $50,000 and Tier 2 grants of $25,000) will be available for improvements like upgrading IT systems to support telehealth consultations, upskilling staff, better ventilation and infection control, and purchasing new equipment.
RACGP President Adjunct Professor Karen Price said the announcement is ‘positive news’, given it is the first commitment from either major party to meaningfully invest in general practice.
‘While we need to see further details of the scheme, the RACGP will work with the Opposition should they form government. We need to ensure it will work in practice, for clinicians and for high quality patient care,’ she said. 

‘The RACGP will always support investment in quality evidenced-based patient care.
‘Ask any GP and they will tell you that they regularly see some patients with multiple chronic conditions as different problems arise week to week over a long period of time.
‘Enshrining continuity of care and drawing on the best available evidence base to help achieve long-term patient health outcomes are vital components of achieving necessary health system reform.’
But while she welcomed the funding commitment, Professor Price also said it would be ‘vital’ that a proposed ‘Strengthening Medicare Fund taskforce’ chaired by prospective Federal Health Minister Mark Butler be led by GPs and consumers. 
‘This will help avoid unintended consequences of policy by making sure there is a vital feedback loop with Government,’ she said. 
‘GPs and general practice teams need a seat at the table because we will be the ones making sure that this model is functioning effectively and reaping beneficial outcomes for the patients who need it most.’
Labor has indicated the aim of the investment will be to:

  • improve patient access to general practice, including after-hours services
  • improve access to GP-led multidisciplinary team care
  • assist better management of complex and chronic conditions
  • decrease pressure on public hospitals.
The election promise comes more than a week after the Federal Coalition announced $146 million in new funding focused on bringing more doctors to under-resourced rural areas, and expanding training to meet the varied requirements of remote communities. 
At the time, RACGP Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements said that much of the Coalition commitments reflected college advocacy requests, but he also pointed out the omission of a significant recommendation from the recent Senate Committee inquiry.
‘It’s worth noting that the key recommendation of that whole Senate inquiry, which was increased Medicare rebates, has still been left unanswered,’ he told newsGP.
As yet, neither major party has committed to increasing patient rebates, despite the ongoing effects of the Medicare freeze.
Nonetheless, Professor Price said that investment in general practice infrastructure is also sorely needed, and that the proposed grants ‘could not come at a better time’.
‘Infrastructure grants could well be a welcome boost for many exhausted GPs and general practice teams, though once again we will need to examine the finer details,’ she said.
‘Practice infrastructure is so important because GPs and their teams take on such a wide range of functions and responsibilities.
‘We already know that 50% of practice owners are concerned about long-term practice, so this is helpful, and recognises the major issues general practice has been facing.’
Regardless of who forms government after the 21 May Federal Election, Professor Price warned more needs to be done to safeguard the future of primary care.
‘Australia needs visionary reform and large-scale improvements to Medicare and general practice funding,’ she said.
‘We are looking for big picture structural reform that will transform patient care and secure the future viability of general practice patient services.
‘We cannot afford as a nation to lose GPs, because we are the bedrock of any high-functioning health system.’ 
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Dr Parvathy Murali   17/05/2022 6:19:03 PM

When are they going to take medicare rebate freezing?
So many confusing medicare items and restrictions When they are going to make it easy for GPS hard working bunch!!