RACGP welcomes $1.8b in primary care funding

Matt Woodley

11/05/2021 9:50:31 PM

But President Dr Karen Price has said more support is needed to maintain and improve quality GP patient services.

The 2021–22 Federal Budget.
RACGP President Dr Karen Price said the 2021–22 Federal Budget is a ‘solid beginning’ for the support of vulnerable patient groups in Australia. (Image: AAP)

The $1.8 billion outlay on primary healthcare contained in the Federal Budget includes funding to support the continued role of general practice in administering COVID-19 vaccinations, as well as the newly-announced provision of Pfizer vaccines through GP respiratory clinics.
Aged care will receive $17.7 billion, including $42 million to double the GP Aged Care Access Incentive from 1 July this year, while $204.6 million has been set aside for the continuation of telehealth in general practice.
As forecast last month, funding for longer phone consultations will not continue beyond 30 June, aside from some mental health services, but new Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) telehealth items have been established for smoking cessation, reproductive health, and drug and alcohol treatment.
Patients outside Australia’s major cities will also benefit from more than $65.8 million in additional support to increase bulk billing rebates in regional, rural and remote areas from 1 January 2022.
However, while RACGP President Dr Karen Price welcomed many of the primary care budget measures, she said the need for greater investment to support broader general practice reform remains.
‘In December last year, Health Minister Greg Hunt promised that 2021 would be the year of the GP,’ she said.
‘If we want to make that a reality, we need to give general practice a much-needed shot in the arm. The $1.8 billion figure is welcome; however, it is unclear how much of this will flow through to frontline GP patient services.
‘We are working closely with the [Federal] Government to develop a model for meaningful investment in general practice care and this will continue. Supporting general practice will improve the health and wellbeing of patients from all walks of life, and reduce the need for more expensive secondary care.’
Dr Price also pointed out that general practice had been drawing attention to shortfalls in the aged care system for ‘many years’ and cautioned that Australia must not take a ‘backwards step’ on telehealth.
‘On the aged care front, the new funding measures are welcome and overdue … the doubling of the incentive for GPs who provide care to people in aged care facilities is an important first step,’ she said.
‘[But] I will be taking a magnifying glass to the $365.7 million allocated to improving access to primary care and other health services in residential aged care because the finer details will make all the difference.
‘I [also] welcome the extension to telehealth services to the end of the year because it has been embraced by GPs and patients, and proven to be a valuable complement to face-to-face care.’
Dr Price said helping people with alcohol and other drug issues is ‘core business’ for general practice, and that the new items will open up reproductive choices for women in rural and remote areas that were not previously available to them.
‘No woman should miss out on reproductive health services and that is why the RACGP pushed so hard for these changes,’ she said.
‘However, some Medicare items for longer telephone consultations will be scrapped from 1 July this year, including for chronic disease management plans, health assessments for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients, and some mental health items.
‘I strongly believe longer telephone consultations are a vital part of the telehealth package and must be included in the extension to the end of this year.’
Aside from calling for continued telehealth support, the RACGP President said that assisting rural and remote GPs is a high priority and that more investment is needed.
‘The rural bulk billing incentives are a positive step forward, but we must use this as a launching point and go much, much further,’ she said.
‘I support the expansion of the allied health rural generalist pathway, and establishing the John Flynn Prevocational Doctor Program to provide additional rural primary care training rotations for junior doctors is crucial – the RACGP will be keeping a close eye on that program.
‘Any increase in funding for rural general practice needs to be part of a broader, more comprehensive and holistic policy response.
‘I also strongly support the allocation of $22.6 million to redesign the Practice Incentives Program – Indigenous Health Incentive. We will not close the gap and improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health outcomes without measures such as this.
‘Many of the measures announced tonight amount to a solid beginning for the support of vulnerable patient groups in Australia. It is very welcome after such a tough 12 months for many general practices and patients nationwide.’
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Dr Michael Lucas Bailey   12/05/2021 7:14:16 AM

Let’s be honest, incentive payments are actually of no benefit for most GPs. The funding goes to the practice not the GP. Certainly it is good for the practice owners though. It doesn’t actually help the GPs doing the work. Isn’t the RACGP supposed to be for GPs? Why is it becoming the college of general practice owners - RACGPO?

Also let’s stop pretending telehealth funding is some kind of boost - it is just shifting money from the face to face consult bucket to the telehealth bucket. Telehealth is important. It needs to stay. Call it like it is though - it is really just funded a reduction in billing of face to face consultations. Lets get real about telehealth and call out the smoke and mirrors funding.

Dr Sarat Chandra Viswanadh Tata   12/05/2021 11:36:41 PM

Dr Bailey,
Aged Care Access Incentive is a SIP-Service Incentive Payment and belongs to the GP and not the practice. You should claim this directly from medicare and not let the practice snatch it from you. Payments for telehealth should be readily welcomed as GP's did a lot of telephone consultations without any payment in the past! I personally do not think this is shifting money. Telehealth payments has made my life a lot easier!