‘The system will fail’: RACGP warning on 10-year plan

Jolyon Attwooll

11/11/2021 4:33:24 PM

Significant reform and investment are needed to maintain standards of care, the college response to the Government’s primary care plan argues.

Generic image with blocks representing healthcare
The college has responded to the Federal Government’s 10-year draft plan for primary care.

The RACGP has warned that general practice is in ‘a state of crisis’ that could further deteriorate.
In a written submission responding to the Department of Health’s (DoH) draft Primary Health Care 10 Year Plan, the college states that high-quality care offered by GPs is at risk if substantial investment and reform do not take place.
Calling general practice ‘the most efficient and cost-effective’ aspect of the health system, the college says that the urgency of the situation has been exacerbated by COVID-19.
‘Rising rates of chronic disease, an ageing population, the COVID-19 pandemic, delayed preventive care due to the pandemic and a looming mental health crisis are putting increasing pressure on the system,’ the submission reads.
‘This is resulting in poorer outcomes and long hospital wait times. Unless there is significant investment and reform, the system will fail.’
Among the most pressing issues highlighted by the college are the stagnation in Medicare funding and critical gaps in workforce supply.
Some of the RACGP solutions outlined to the Primary Health Reform Steering Group in July had been adopted in the draft plan, the college says, but others have not been included.
The submission urged changes in the plan to address the remaining gaps. Specific measures advocated by the college include, among others:

  • the introduction of a Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) item for Level E consultations over 60 minutes long
  • the installation of a ‘permanent and equitable telehealth scheme’. This would include making longer telephone consultations permanent, which would facilitate access to care for groups such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, elderly people, as well as people with a disability and rural populations
  • more support to allow GPs to adapt to new digital systems
  • investment to support GPs spending more time with their patients, including higher rebates for Level C and D standard consultations, which would help improve access to care for people at risk of poorer outcomes
  • ensuring a fit-for-purpose model of Voluntary Patient Enrolment (VPE) that supports high-quality care, with increased funding for quality general practice care not supported by Medicare
  • introducing more measures to help GP recruitment, including boosting the attractiveness of general practice as a career, as well as providing greater support for rural GPs
  • making GPs the ‘key stakeholders’ in joint planning and commissioning, as well as developing mechanisms to involve local general practices in service design and delivery.
The issue of GP shortages in rural areas is a particularly key point.
‘The decline in general practice funding via Medicare, through both the Medicare rebate freeze and the ongoing failure to appropriately index MBS patient rebates, has impacted the viability of rural general practices and the attractiveness of general practice more broadly,’ the submission reads.
Among the aspects of the plan welcomed by the college is the incorporation of additional funding for mental health and aged care, as well as the commitment to Close the Gap and support for Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs).
The submission says the process that is now underway offers a chance to improve healthcare outcomes, both in primary care and more broadly.
With the pandemic providing examples of new collaborations between general practice and state government health authorities, the college suggests the 10-year plan should seek to build on those partnerships.
‘The RACGP supports a new funding mechanism which promotes innovative models of GPs and hospitals working together to reduce emergency presentations and preventable hospital readmissions,’ the submission reads.
However, the college consistently underlines the need for investment to support GPs, warning of rising costs to the system more broadly if that does not happen.
‘Evidence both nationally and internationally shows that a well-supported general practice sector will result in efficiencies for primary and secondary care, and the broader healthcare system,’ the submission reads.
‘Failure to invest adequately in general practice will result in continued increases in overall healthcare costs.
‘While the Primary Health Care 10-Year Plan presents a significant opportunity for reform, it must be targeted towards supporting general practices to deliver high-quality, comprehensive care.’
Consultation for the Federal Government’s 10-year draft plan closed on Tuesday, 9 November.
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Dr Ailsa Mary Carole Laidlaw   12/11/2021 9:15:50 AM

As things stand , there will be very few GPs (only in affluent areas) in a decade's time. And the national cost of tertiary-only medicine will sky-rocket.
As the number of GPs fall , so will the number of RACGP members and college revenue. Perhaps this is the only incentive which will motivate the RACGP to push for Medicare rebate increases in basic consultation items , so that the college revenue doesn't fall.

Dr Cate Sheppard   15/11/2021 9:48:20 AM

Couldn't agree more Ailsa. I'd add that an ageing GP cohort will exacerbate the problem further. There's a deep & growing cynicism amongst older GPs who are getting ready to retire early or try to switch paths in medicine. And our college has to own some of the blame for this through years of submissive posturing to he government . And where is the AMA - who seem to me to be just a mouth piece for specialists only.

Dr Graham James Lovell   17/11/2022 10:08:01 PM

What is already happening is that in many areas of Australia we have a shortage of doctors. and this will accelerate as the large % of over 55 yo Doctors
retire in the next 5 years based on current surveys.
Inevitably supply and demand impacts on the cost of a commodity.
Consecutive Governments who have “ Defrauded “ us the dedicated overly generous General Practitioners while Specialists bleed patients dry.
They have between them awakened an awareness of charging what we truly believe we are worth .
Simultaneously allowing undersupply of General Practitioners allows quality doctors to now do this as financial patients accept the value in the level of care-we are a private billing practice that luckily had several doctors join recently in a growing outer Metro area that overall despite this is down 8 local GPs in a year . 138 New patients walked through the door last month …..