Three politicians, three visions for the future of primary healthcare

Doug Hendrie

12/10/2018 2:22:28 PM

Australia’s top healthcare decision makers have described their visions of the future of primary healthcare at the RACGP’s annual conference for general practice.

L–R: Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt; Shadow Minister for Health Catherine King; Leader of the Australian Greens Richard Di Natale.
L–R: Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt; Shadow Minister for Health Catherine King; Leader of the Australian Greens Richard Di Natale.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, Shadow Minister for Health and Medicare Catherine King, and leader of the Australian Greens Richard Di Natale spoke about the challenges facing GPs – and about what could be done to help them.
Minister Greg Hunt promised incentives for GPs to help keep people out of hospital.
‘This won’t happen overnight … but it’s utterly achievable,’ he said.
He also promised boosts to medical research in general practice.
‘One of the fundamental changes we want to bring about is to engage … research far more with general practice,’ he said.
Minister Hunt said the Federal Government is working on making telehealth a viable option, which would entail more funding. 
The minister also announced $29.5 million in funding for the RACGP’s new Practice Experience Program (PEP) in order to better support non-vocationally registered (non-VR) doctors to achieve Fellowship, and described point-of-care testing in general practices as ‘inevitable’.
Shadow Minister King said Labor wants to ensure timely, affordable access to general practice for all Australians, with alternate funding models for GPs key.
‘We will not achieve the [RACGP’s] vision unless and until Commonwealth policy and funding rewards GPs for practising in a different way,’ she said. ‘That’s what the last Labor Government did, for example, through the introduction of the Coordinated Veterans’ Care Program.
‘And I can assure you it’s what a Shorten Labor Government would do, because general practice and your patients depend on it.’
She said that the ongoing lifting of the freeze on Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) rebate indexing had not solved issues facing GPs.
‘Gradual re-indexation will not restore the more than $3 billion that has been cut from Medicare by the freeze,’ she said.
Shadow Minister King said Labor is committed to developing and enacting a strategy for climate change and health.
‘One of the ways that’s really important in public consciousness is talking about climate change in relation to health,’ she said. ‘At present, we talk about it a lot more in relation to energy policy.
‘But if you look at how [former US president Barack] Obama managed this, it was very much around the impact on citizens.’
Dr Di Natale promised to reintroduce the Australian National Preventive Health Agency.
‘Our vision is healthcare that’s universal and not just in name,’ he said.
‘We are seeing the erosion of healthcare and the emergence of a two-tiered healthcare system in Australia.
‘Our vision is prevention front and centre in healthcare policy. What we’ve got to do is invest in preventive care, [which is] very good value for money.’
Dr Di Natale called for an end to the $6 billion private health insurance rebate and a reinvestment of those funds into making dentistry accessible under Medicare.
He urged GPs to get active in national debates around policy response to health, such as efforts to introduce a tax on sugar and junk food reformulation.
‘It’s really important your voices are heard,’ he told the GPs.
‘The college and individual GPs need to be strong advocates. We are battling these big industry groups, who are very powerful, but one thing they don’t have is the trust and respect of the community.’

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Dr Alison Rose   13/10/2018 8:41:55 AM

I would like to comment on Mr Hunt's offer of "incentives" for GPs to help keep people out of hospital. As a GP practicing in an area with a high population of geriatric age group and patients with chronic diseases, we do all we can already to keep patients out of hospital, but sometimes their health problems are so serious or acute that they do need hospitalization.
It is insulting to GPs to suggest that offering us more money would prevent us from referring patients to hospital! Yes, we do need more realistic Medicare rebates and their is a lot that either side of politics can do to improve funding for general practice and GP training, but I can't see the logic behind this suggestion.

Sceptic   14/10/2018 9:06:13 AM

Dr Rose it will be insulting to GPs if we look at Minister Hunt's "incentives" as bribery. At this stage we do not know what form, value these incentives will be. If it is possible for Government to provide funding for point of care testing like INR, introduce a longer consultation than D, introduce a SIP and PIP for managing complex patients in community that includes home visit than this insult of bribery would not be an issue, instead it would be an appropriate financial incentive for a job that can be well done in the community instead of relying on hospital system.