National Cabinet commits to healthcare review

Matt Woodley

17/06/2022 2:55:46 PM

The planned assessment of funding arrangements reform options is a chance to secure the future of general practice, according to the RACGP.

National Cabinet press conference.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said there are ‘real pressures’ within the healthcare system. (Image: AAP)

The first National Cabinet meeting led by the new Federal Government has ended with a commitment to review health funding in Australia and investigate options for system reform.
Special COVID-19 funding arrangements were also extended until at least the end of the year, after they were originally scheduled to come to an end in September.
Ahead of the meeting, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese conceded that there are ‘real pressures’ within the healthcare system but said the solution is not ‘just a matter of hospital funding’.
‘That’s why we announced during the election campaign our urgent care clinics,’ he said.
‘That’s why we announced our Medicare-strengthening GP payments as well for every [genera practice] clinic in the country. That’s why we announced $750 million to our Medicare program.
‘We will have discussions today about the pressures that the system is under.’
While there is limited detail surrounding the review, which will be led by the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Professor Glyn Davis, RACGP Vice President Dr Bruce Willett said general practice must be a central focus of the planned work.
‘GPs and general practice teams are needed by our communities more than ever before and it’s essential that this review carefully considers the future of general practice care,’ he said.
‘The nation’s hospital system is operating under tremendous strain, and this requires urgent attention.
‘However, the Government must also have front of mind that boosting investment in general practice care will relieve pressure on the entire health system and improve patient health outcomes.’
Known aspects of the review include a plan to improve the connection between GPs and hospitals, as well as identification of practical methods to get aged care residents and National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants out of hospital and into more appropriate settings.
Dr Willett said while this is ‘welcome news’, it will be essential for GPs to have a ‘prominent voice’ when determining how to improve the operation of Australian healthcare.
‘We have seen many reviews over the years. It is essential that the review results in a change that best supports Australians and the GP services on which they depend,’ he said.
‘We must get this right, otherwise patients will miss out on the care and support they need.’
The RACGP Vice President also said that the review has come at a vital time.
‘General practice certainly needs a helping hand so that no patient misses out,’ he said.
‘Over the last two-and-a-bit years we have helped patients during the Black Summer bushfires, COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine rollout and floods. These crises have reinforced how vital GPs and general practice teams are to their communities when disaster strikes.
‘We are working under enormous pressure delivering COVID-19 vaccines and boosters as well as influenza vaccines amidst high-community transmission of these viruses. GPs and general practice teams are also delivering routine healthcare … and helping people with mental health issues exacerbated by lockdowns and social restrictions.
‘We are managing all of this at a time when Australia has an ageing population and rising rates of chronic disease such as diabetes and asthma.
‘Unfortunately, Medicare rebates have not kept pace with the cost of providing high-quality general practice care.’
Aside from the lack of investment increasingly forcing practices to move away from bulk billing to private or mixed billing, Dr Willett said it has also had a detrimental impact on the GP workforce.
‘Simply put, not enough future doctors are opting for a career in general practice and if we don’t reverse this trend, it will become even harder for many patients, particularly those in rural and remote communities, to access the care they need when they need it,’ he said.
‘So, this review is a great opportunity to give general practice a much-needed shot in the arm and improve patient health outcomes.
‘Earlier this year, the Community Affairs References Committee interim report recommended that the Federal Government investigate substantially increasing Medicare rebates for all levels of general practice consultations. The new Government should take on board this recommendation, which would make an enormous difference for the future viability of practices across Australia.
‘The RACGP looks forward to engaging in discussions with the new Government about how to boost general practice, which would significantly enhance patient care.
‘Together, we can work to transform general practice and ensure no patients are left behind.’
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