Question Time focuses on GP crisis after college advocacy

Jolyon Attwooll

22/11/2022 12:54:52 PM

Federal Health Minister Mark Butler says general practice is in crisis nationwide, not just rural and remote Australia.

Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butle
Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler speaks during a Question Time earlier this year. (Image: AAP Photos/ Lukas Coch)

It was a busy day at Parliament House on Monday for anyone with an interest in general practice.
First the RACGP organised a new Parliamentary Friends of General Practice group, bringing together clinicians with politicians of all hues to help ease the GP crisis in Australia in a non-partisan way.
Co-chaired by independent MP Dr Sophie Scamps, Labor’s Dr Gordon Reid, and National Party Senator Susan McDonald, the group had 27 GPs in attendance at an inaugural breakfast meeting.
College representatives then broke off into smaller groups to speak with MPs directly – more than 90 meetings have been scheduled according to RACGP CEO Paul Wappett – to discuss higher Medicare rebates for longer consultations, tripling the bulk billing incentive, and the reintroduction of the Junior Doctors Program.

It did not take long for these face-to-face advocacy efforts to be raised in Parliament, with Federal Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler, who had also attended the earlier breakfast, referencing the college’s presence later that afternoon during Question Time.
It came in response to an inquiry from the Nationals leader David Littleproud about how many rural towns had lost GPs due to recent changes to Distribution Priority Areas (DPA).
‘I’m very pleased to have another opportunity to talk about what this government is doing to address the crisis in general practice,’ Minister Butler said.  
‘This morning, a number of members from across the Parliament met with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners – some of whom join us here in the chamber today – to address what I think is the worst crisis in general practice in the almost 40-year history of Medicare.
‘It’s not just a crisis in rural and regional Australia, although the crisis there is certainly more extreme than in the cities. It is a crisis in the cities as well.’
Minister Butler said the Medicare freeze and the introduction of the DPA system, which restricted rebates for international medical graduates to priority areas only, had caused a crisis both in rural and metropolitan general practice.
He also said Medicare was ‘at the centre’ of the Australian Labor Party’s election platform and referred to the work of the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce.
That group, which first met in July, includes the RACGP and representatives from a number of other healthcare professions and is due to report by the end of the year.
‘We are sitting down with them every month – the college of rural medicine among them, the rural health commissioner among them – to talk about ways in which we can improve access to general practice across the community: in the cities, in rural towns, in remote communities,’ Minister Butler said.
Minister Butler also said the October budget included a rural general practice package, and funding to ensure there are more training placements on offer through the John Flynn Prevocational Doctor program.
‘There is no higher priority for this government than to rebuild general practice after the vandalism of the last 10 years,’ he said.
Minister Butler’s response did not include specific details on the number of GPs who had left their posts due to the recent DPA changes.
Under the new rules, more areas were categorised as priority, in theory making recruitment easier for general practices in regional and outer metropolitan areas.
At the time, RACGP Rural Chair Associate Professor Michael Clements warned it could lead to doctors migrating away from regional and remote areas.
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Dr Marc Andrew Wilkinson   23/11/2022 9:45:25 AM

ill tell you this much. promoting pharmacists doing work that should be done by GPs is not a sensible answer

Dr Aline Suan Lin Smith   25/11/2022 6:36:39 PM

Task substitution is not the answer
I agree with you Marc