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Tasmania visit reinforces need for funding investment


Matt Woodley


16/05/2022 4:12:44 PM

Both state and federal governments need to boost the amount of support being given to general practices, the RACGP has said.

GPs talking in Tasmania practice
RACGP CEO Paul Wappett and RACGP Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements with Drs Bailey Dunn and Samantha Wyton from John St Medical Centre.

Clinics will be forced to shut their doors if general practice isn’t given a much-needed boost, RACGP CEO Paul Wappett has warned following a tour of Hobart and surrounding areas in Tasmania.
 
Mr Wappett said the fact-finding visit had ‘really reinforced’ how vital general practices are to communities across the state, and also that they need a ‘helping hand’ to deal with the widening gap between Medicare rebates and medical costs.
 
‘Earlier this year we released our Election Statement, which outlined a series of measures the Federal Government could adopt to give general practice a shot in the arm,’ he said.
 
‘This includes a 10% increase to Medicare rebates for Level C consultations, which last at least 20 minutes, and Level D consultations, which last for at least 40 minutes, as well as introducing a new Medicare item for longer consultations lasting more than 60 minutes.
 
‘If we don’t see greater investment in general practice, some practices will be forced to either shut up shop or pass the cost along to patients.
 
‘No one wins in this scenario, but many practices have their hands tied because Medicare rebates simply haven’t kept pace with the cost of providing high-quality general practice care.’
 
It is a sentiment shared by RACGP Tasmania Chair Dr Tim Jackson, who joined Mr Wappett on the mission alongside RACGP Rural Chair Dr Michael Clements, and Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) President Jasmine Davis.
 
Dr Jackson believes investing properly in general practice would improve patient health outcomes across Tasmania.
 
‘Giving general practice a funding boost will relieve pressure on the state’s entire healthcare system,’ he said.
 
‘Patients in some communities are presenting to emergency departments for health concerns that should really have been managed earlier by a GP. When this happens you have “ramping” and crowded hospital corridors, which can put patient care and safety at risk.
 
‘What we want to do is make sure patients can see a GP when health problems emerge. If people are putting off or avoiding consultations due to cost or poor accessibility, this flows through the entire healthcare system and the long-term patient health outcomes can prove disastrous.
 
‘A properly funded primary care system can make all the difference.’

Tasmania-visit-article.jpgDr Michael Clements with Dr Bailey Dunn and AMSA President Jasmine Davis.

The touring party visited the John Street Medical Practice in Kingston, Ochre Health in Huonville, and the Cygnet Family Practice. They also had an eye on the future, with Mr Wappett reinforcing the importance of encouraging more medical students to specialise in general practice.
 
‘We are keenly aware that we need to have a strong focus on medical students and work with AMSA to secure the future of [the] GP workforce,’ he said.
 
‘By introducing Jasmine to these practices, we are hoping to get her thoughts on how the college can encourage an interest in general practice.
 
‘I’m [also] excited to talk to local practices about the move to college-led training next year, which is fast approaching.
 
‘The college is mindful of findings in the interim Senate report, which noted the importance of engaging with [general practice] training organisations. We’re working closely with RTOs, including General Practice Training Tasmania and other stakeholders, to ensure a smooth transition to college-led training and the best outcomes for [general practice] training and the communities that practices serve.’
 
Aside from visiting individual practices, the group was also due to join last weekend’s Practice Owners National Conference.
 
‘This [conference] is a great opportunity for GP practice owners, practice managers and those looking to move into practice ownership to connect with each other and share ideas on how to navigate the challenges facing practice owners,’ Mr Wappett said.
 
‘I plan to talk to as many GPs and practice managers as possible to learn about how the RACGP can fight for them and make their job that little bit easier.’
 
For Dr Clements, securing long-term financial sustainability is one aspect of primary care that would help GPs treat patients in rural, regional, and remote parts of the country.
 
‘In Tasmania and indeed right across Australia, too often the healthcare needs of people outside of major cities are overlooked and that must change,’ he said.
 
‘Just last month, an interim report into GP and related primary health services to outer-metro, rural, and regional Australians recommended [that] the Federal Government investigates substantially increasing Medicare rebates for all levels of general practice consultations.
 
‘This would be hugely beneficial for practices in the bush struggling to make ends meet. If they are forced to close or move to private billing or mixed billing, this is especially problematic because many communities won’t be able to look elsewhere – they have no other choice.’
 
Dr Clements also called on the Tasmanian Government to introduce a state-level package to attract more GPs to non-metro communities.
 
‘The Government could put in place a grant encouraging them to train in communities where they are needed most,’ he said.
 
‘We also know that programs such as Avenues to Rural, and the RACGP’s Practice to Practice allow GPs to experience rural, regional, and remote general practice and develop comprehensive skills under the watchful eye of a mentor.
 
‘I strongly support a whole-of-community approach to settle GPs into these communities, because we need to consider the circumstances of GPs tempted to make this move and make it as smooth a transition as possible.
 
‘This could include assistance finding a place to buy or rent, schools and partner employment, children, funding for relocation, and more.
 
‘The RACGP will continue to work in partnership with the Tasmanian Government to ensure that general practice care has a strong future.’
 
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