RACGP urges greater investment in general practice care

Royal Australian College of GPs

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is once again urging the new federal Government to increase investment in general practice care to boost the GP workforce and reduce growing wait times to see a GP.

It comes following reports of new data from Healthengine showing many patients are waiting longer on average to see a GP. In 2019, people living in New South Wales were waiting just over two-and-a-half days for an appointment and that figure has now grown to more than four days. In Victoria, the delay has grown from just under two days in 2019 to more than three days this year. The proportion of people who waited for 24 hours or more to see a GP for urgent medical care increased to 33.9% in 2020-21 from 29.8% in 2019-20.

A report by Deloitte released earlier this year also shows demand for GPs will increase by nearly 40 per cent in the next decade and a shortfall of more than 11,000 GPs who will be desperately needed to provide essential primary healthcare services.

RACGP President Adj. Professor Karen Price said investment in general practice care was urgently needed.

“The latest data tell us what we already know – we have a GP workforce problem and too many people are waiting too long to see their GP,” she said.

“We must boost the GP workforce by making it a more appealing option for future doctors. One of the keys to achieving this is increasing investment in general practice care. Patient rebates simply have not kept pace with the rising cost of providing high-quality care and that must change. Future doctors are looking at every other speciality such as being a surgeon and seeing huge differences in Medicare support. Yet GPs and general practice teams save lives through continuous, coordinated care again and again and Medicare rebates must reflect that.

“Last week, a Medicare indexation increase of 1.6% came into effect for most general medical services items. In real terms, this is only 65 cents in additional funding for a patient to spend around 15 minutes with their GP. This indexation is currently calculated using the Wage Cost Index 5 method, which results in annual increases lower than the Consumer Price Index, which increased by 5.1% over the past 12 months. The RACGP has long warned that this method is insufficient and that general practice must be put on a more sustainable, long-term financial footing.

“If governments don’t urgently invest in general practice care, patients will face longer and longer waits to see a GP. When patients can’t book a prompt appointment, health conditions can deteriorate, and they can end up in a hospital bed with something that could and should have been managed at first instance by a GP. This is a scenario in which no one wins. Increased investment in general practice care can relieve pressure on the entire healthcare system and help people get the help they need when they need it from their regular GP.”

RACGP Vice President Dr Bruce Willett said that GPs and general practice teams were under more pressure than ever.

“High COVID-19 and influenza rates have served to highlight the result of decades of underinvestment in general practice. Unless governments invest in general practice care we will see more of this in the future and wait times will only worsen,” he said.

“At a personal level, I’ve been a GP for 35 years now and I haven’t really seen a winter like this where we’re seeing such extraordinarily high numbers of influenza. Normally, influenza peaks as a late winter phenomenon. On top of that, we’re seeing record numbers of COVID-19 and other viruses like respiratory syncytial virus or RSV.

“This is a perfect storm of a whole range of issues coming together. The chronic underfunding of Medicare is resulting in medical graduates not treating general practice as a preferred career and so we’re in danger of running out of GPs. All of those things are coming together to cause a really acute shortage of GPs nation-wide.”

The RACGP’s Vision for general practice and a sustainable healthcare system outlines a model of care that aims to address the nation’s healthcare challenges and ensure the best possible health outcomes for patients through general practice. The economic benefits of implementing the Vision show that it is a sound return on investment.

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