MPs bridge political divide to address GP crisis

Matt Woodley

21/11/2022 4:46:13 PM

A new nonpartisan Parliamentary Friends of General Practice group will aim to find solutions for the serious issues plaguing primary care in Australia.

Parliamentary Friends of General Practice launch
Attendees at the launch of the Parliamentary Friends of General Practice in Canberra.

MPs from across the political spectrum united in their support for the future of Australian general practice at a Parliamentary breakfast in Canberra on Monday.
Co-Chaired by former GP and independent MP Dr Sophie Scamps, Labor’s Dr Gordon Reid, and National Party Senator Susan McDonald, the Parliamentary Friends of General Practice group has been formed in an effort to build a stronger connection between Canberra and GPs on the ground.
RACGP President Adjunct Professor Karen Price was one of 27 GPs in attendance at the launch, and said the large turnout was part of a concerted effort to send a strong message to Australia’s leaders.
‘We need change, and we need it now,’ she said.
‘Government after government have taken funding away from general practice patients, and because of these actions, right across Australia people are missing out on the care they need, and they are suffering.
‘Our population is ageing, and we are dealing with increasing rates of chronic disease, mental health concerns, and people with multiple conditions requiring complex care. And this, together with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, has seen the community need for GP care hit a scale never seen before.’
Professor Price also alluded to recent state government moves that aim to substitute some of the care delivered by GPs with other healthcare workers, warning that such initiatives will result in more harm than good.
‘Let me be clear, there is no substitute for GPs – that path will result in poor health outcomes for patients,’ she said.
‘GPs play a unique role in the health system because we don’t just treat illness. We keep people well by providing comprehensive, whole-person care and preventive care, which keeps people out of hospital and also reduces spending on expensive hospital care.
‘Our health system is broken, and patients are the ones suffering most. The RACGP is continuing to urge Australia’s leaders to fix the system, and pivot healthcare funding to prevent illness and keep people well in the community.’

‘There is a desperate shortage of GPs across the country and if general practice collapses, our whole health system could be imperilled,’ she said.
‘As a former GP, I’ll be using my voice in Parliament to ensure we build a robust primary healthcare system that supports the health of all Australians.’
One attendee who is all too familiar with general practice workforce issues is Launceston GP, Dr Toby Gardner.
He says there are no universal bulk billing practices left in northern Tasmania because Medicare patient rebates are too low for it to be viable, while workforce issues are also making it difficult for the state’s most vulnerable to access care.
‘Tasmania’s population is among Australia’s oldest, sickest and poorest, and we have the lowest health literacy,’ he said.
‘And part of the reason we have such a sick population is that too many people struggle to access the care they need.’
Dr Gardiner believes delivering healthcare in Tasmania is ‘particularly challenging’, as many people live in hard-to-reach rural and remote towns that have limited access to GPs.
‘Where I live and work in Northern Tasmania, we are short around 20–30 GPs, and it’s set to get worse because we’re seeing GPs retire and not be replaced, and fewer junior doctors are going into GP training,’ he said.
‘I myself am booked out until 3 March. We have 28 GPs in our practice, but we still struggle to meet the demand.
‘My books are full of patients with complex, chronic health issues, and we’ve also seen a huge surge in people needing treatment for mental health issues. And they need a lot of time, which puts more strain on our capacity to see other patients.’
Federal Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler, who was also in attendance, has previously spoken of the pressing need to increase GP numbers, while his Labor colleague Dr Reid, a former emergency physician, said general practice is ‘critical’ for a healthy society.
‘As a doctor working in the emergency department, I have seen firsthand why general practice is vital for our community,’ he said.
‘It is essential to ensure high quality, patient-centred care … [and] it is the key component to ensure that our health system is proactive, rather than reactive.
‘Without general practice, the Australian health system would collapse. This is the reason why we have united in support, to achieve outcomes which will benefit the health of the community.’ Meanwhile Senator McDonald, who lives in Townsville, also referenced the importance of healthcare access to rural and remote areas, saying it makes regional Australia more liveable and attractive to young families.
‘The Parliamentary Friends of General Practice is a bipartisan group where we can discuss the issues related to getting more GPs to these areas, and most importantly, the solutions,’ she said.
‘I very much look forward to working with the RACGP to encourage more GPs to consider careers in the regions.’
For Professor Price, an obvious solution to improving patient healthcare access is greater investment in primary care – especially as general practice funding comprises less than 8% of total government health spending.
‘We need to get more GPs working in the communities that need them most, because while telehealth is great as a complement to face-to-face care, it’s critical to have doctors on the ground,’ she said.
‘And we need to make general practice the profession of choice for medical students and junior doctors.
‘As a GP myself, I know just how rewarding the career is; it’s so rich with variety and opportunity to build ongoing relationships with patients and the community, and really see the impact of your work.
‘The right funding, support and promotion of our profession would make a real difference.’
But while the new group promises to help translate advocacy efforts into tangible outcomes that help patients, Dr Gardiner remains worried about the health of those doing it tough right now.
‘What I find particularly heartbreaking to see is the patients who are on low incomes and don’t have money set aside for their health,’ he said.
‘Patients who don’t have money set aside will wait until they can get in to see a GP who will bulk bill them, and sometimes they’ll be waiting months, and in the meantime their health is deteriorating.
‘It is frankly shameful that in a country like Australia, it is those people who need the most help who are the most disadvantaged by the current healthcare funding model.’
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Dr George Al-Horani   22/11/2022 6:00:33 AM

There are a lot of factors contributing to The Mal- Distribution of GPs around the country :
1. Most young graduates Wnats to live in a city environment.
2. Lack of support for the rest of the GP family , they get bored and has no social life .
3. Lack of education facilities for the children, especially if the GP wants his children to study Medicine .
4. Cheap labour , most city doctors make more income than Rural GP with much less stress and much less on call responsibilities.
5. Burn out and lack of support to find a locum doctors, and even if you find a locum doctor , they don’t want to be on call , so you will be still stuck there to cover the on call .
6. I suggest someone needs to visit the Rural doctors and listen to them and their families and work on the difficulties they are going through.

Dr Peter James Strickland   22/11/2022 12:26:07 PM

This sounds like a talkfest to me without any real influence at all. The critical changes have to occur at Ministerial and senior public service level. The RACGP has to get the rebate levels for the commonly used MBS items for GPs elevated as a priority --no ifs or buts. The expensive medical care occurs in hospitals, and especially EDs, and what was called the "residents/registrars/consultant pen' ordering expensive investigations and treatments. GPs rebates are now a disgrace --think what you pay for the plumber, electrician or lawyer for very basic advice or work --- and what the government pays THEM for such work --- the difference is massive now. Stopping bulk billing everyone is the solution at present --no freebies by GPs, and charge patients in hospital EDs for routine consults that are NOT emergencies.

Dr Horst Paul Herb   22/11/2022 9:21:25 PM

The MBS rebates are not viable. Private billing is not viable in socioeconomic disadvantaged areas. Discriminatory bulk billing is unfair and unjust - charging those the most who fund the system in the first place through their tax contributions. The only way to win in this game is not playing it - hence I closed my practice some 7 years ago and work for a fixed daily fee in public hospitals and Aboriginal health services. Never been happier, never more able to support my patients to the fullest of my abilities.

Dr Abdul Ahad Khan   24/11/2022 12:53:19 PM

In Praise of GPs - now an EXTINCT SPECIES
GPs were ' Jack of all Trades ' .
GPs were well-versed in all aspects of Primary Health Care.
GPs were appropriately referring Patients to various Consultant Specialists, as & when needed.
GPs were managing each Patient in a Wholistic manner.
GPs were managing the Effects of Family / Occupational / Social Dynamics on their Patients.
GPs were aware of the inter-relationship of the Psyche & the Human Body.
GPs were looking after each Patient from the Cradle to the Grave.
GPs were the most important Cog in the wheel of Primary Care.

Because of the Concerted & Sustained Efforts of Successive Govts. GPs are now an EXTINCT SPECIES
There you go : I have written an Epitaph for the Graves of all of us GPs