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Inaugural engageGP event allows member voices to be heard


Morgan Liotta


27/05/2021 4:31:06 PM

The RACGP-hosted virtual member forum discussed general practice advocacy and allowed college leaders to outline some long-term strategies.

Screenshot of the engageGP virtual forum
The RACGP lobbying for more funding for general practice is a high priority for members.

‘The engageGP forum gives members a platform to be heard and is an important part of the RACGP’s advocacy, encouraging members to get involved and share their views,’ MC Dr Sally Cockburn said during her opening of the forum.
 
‘If we’re not in it, we can’t make it happen’
 
Building on feedback from the RACGP member census results, the first engageGP forum discussed key areas of focus for the college, poll questions and finished with a Q&A session.
 
While almost 70% of GPs value their RACGP membership and consider it important, the census revealed that more than eight in 10 would like to see some improvements, with a high priority placed on advocacy.
 
In response, the RACGP has pledged to increase its efforts to support its members, focusing in on five areas identified as most important: 

  • Increasing government funding for the primary health system
  • Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) issues
  • Improving the primary health system for better patient outcomes
  • Encroachment of other health professionals on GP services
  • Reducing bureaucracy in the health system
‘Part of my presidential platform was to open up the college and get more members involved and understand what is happening,’ RACGP President Dr Karen Price said at the forum.
 
‘Our superpower is we are the largest medical college. We offer balanced, evidence-based commentary and support a diversity of views.
 
‘Keeping our members engaged in this space is really important.’
 
What does successful advocacy from the RACGP look like?
Attendee responses to the first in a series of poll questions said securing more funding for general practice should be the highest priority (24%).
 
This was followed by being able to influence change (21%), and influence government decisions and provide better quality care for patients (15% for both).
 
Dr Michael Wright, Chair of RACGP Expert Committee – Funding and Health System Reform, said a ‘member’s voice’ is needed for general practice advocacy to be successful in influencing government to increase general practice funding.
 
‘There’s a misunderstanding of what general practice does; a failure of funders to understand the breadth of what we do and the services that we provide, they are constantly cherry-picked off. We [GPs] treat the whole breadth of the population,’ he said.
 
‘Our message is [we] want to be recognised as the first point of contact, the first access for patients, and to provide comprehensive continuity of care. And they’re things that have not been fully recognised and are really important if we are to manage the increasing burden of chronic disease for our population.’
 
The RACGP is ‘shifting the dial’ and raising awareness of the importance of better funded general practice, Dr Wright said, but it’s a ‘long and slow game’.
 
‘When you’re looking at influencing policy – the changing demographics are showing we have this problem, we are an ageing population, with more chronic diseases, etcetera,’ he said.
 
‘Well-funded general practice, or sustainable and viable general practice is the solution. Our message is not “give GPs more money”, but rather – if we don’t give GPs more money it’s at your own peril because you’re creating an unsustainable healthcare system.’
 
It was stated during the forum that tecognising the importance of general practice and building a sustainable healthcare system continue to be a focus of the RACGP’s advocacy efforts, as well as driving more junior doctors to choose general practice, given the decrease in recent years.
 
Once funding is increased for activities that increase the value of general practice and rebates are increased, then both GPs and their patients will benefit, according to Dr Wright.
 
‘That is where the college has been proactive. We’ve designed a vision for the future of general practice and a sustainable health system,’ Dr Wright said.
 
‘We looked at costings and what would be the benefits of implementing this vision of more funding for GPs, more avoidable hospital presentations, and more coordinated and more flexible care, including telehealth.
 
‘Based on the strongest evidence we found the most conservative estimates to be in the billions.’
 
Would you consider the recent changes to telehealth and COVID MBS item numbers an advocacy win for the RACGP?
 
The majority of attendees responded in the poll that although an achievement, there is still more to do in these areas, with 62% rating the recent changes to telehealth positive, and 48% for COVID MBS item numbers.
 
‘On the telehealth front, the RACGP has delivered for members,’ Dr Price said.  
 
‘The extension of telehealth consultations for all patients across Australia, and with the college advocating for longer mental health consults, telehealth has been a win for mental health patients.’
 
Dr Price cites the temporary extension of telehealth until the end of 2021 as another triumph for general practice, with the college successfully arguing for the removal of the GP-only restriction requiring telehealth consultations to be bulk-billed for certain groups of patients.
 
The President said the RACGP will keep pushing strongly for a long-term telehealth plan beyond the end of 2021 to ensure longer telephone consultations are part of the future of telehealth.
 
‘If we don’t continue to advocate there is no future for telehealth,’ Dr Price said.
 
The panel briefly discussed other areas the RACGP is undertaking as part of its ongoing advocacy efforts, including:
  • Direct political engagement with government on COVID-19 – including a successful COVID-19 vaccination rollout, Medicare rebates and compliance, general practice funding, standards, general practice training, and health reform
  • Submissions to royal commissions and senate inquiries, and GP representation at hearings
  • Modelling of Government investment for new MBS items and/or revised benefits of MBS items
Dr Price said that climate change is being pushed to also be included in advocacy plans, including disaster management.
 
Forum attendees responded in the final poll that the areas they are most keen to discuss at future forums include the future of general practice (17%), encroachment of other specialties into general practice, such as pharmacy and nursing (14%), and MBS and billing (13%).
 
‘You have told us you want stronger and more public advocacy work as well as transparent updates from RACGP decision-makers, and ongoing opportunities to have input into the strategic direction of the college,’ Dr Price said.
 
‘Our new engageGP member forums will help us do just that.’
 
The next engageGP forum is on 18 June at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.
 
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