The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has welcomed many of the budget’s primary care measures but encouraged the federal Government to go further in supporting quality GP patient services.
Tonight’s federal budget included:
· $1.8 billion in primary healthcare funding, including support for the continued role of general practice in COVID-19 vaccinations and news that GP respiratory clinics will now be delivering the Pfizer vaccine
· $17.7 billion investment in aged care, including $42.8 million to double the GP Aged Care Access Incentive from 1 July this year
· $204.6 million for the continuation of telehealth in general practice including new items for smoking cessation, reproductive health and drug and alcohol treatment.
· more than $65.8 million from 1 January 2022 to boost bulk billing rebates and provide more affordable healthcare for patients in regional, rural and remote areas
RACGP President Dr Karen Price welcomed many of tonight’s primary care budget measures but said more investment was needed for broader general practice reform.
“In December last year, Health Minister Greg Hunt promised that 2021 would be the year of the GP,” she said.
“If we want to make that a reality, we need to give general practice a much-needed shot in the arm. The $1.8 billion figure is welcome; however, it is unclear how much of this will flow through to frontline GP patient services.
“We are working closely with the Government to develop a model for meaningful investment in general practice care and this will continue. Supporting general practice will improve the health and wellbeing of patients from all walks of life and reduce the need for more expensive secondary care.
“On the aged care front, the new funding measures are welcome and overdue. General practice has been drawing attention to shortfalls in the aged care system for many years and the doubling of the incentive for GPs who provide care to people in aged care facilities is an important first step.
“I will be taking a magnifying glass to the $365.7 million allocated to improving access to primary care and other health services in residential aged care because the finer details will make all the difference.”
Dr Price also said that Australia must not take a backwards step on telehealth.
“I welcome the extension to telehealth services to the end of the year because it has been embraced by GPs and patients and proven to be a valuable complement to face-to-face care,” she said.
“The telehealth extension includes new Medicare items for reproductive health, smoking cessation, and drug and alcohol counselling.
“Helping people with alcohol and other drug concerns is core business for general practice and the new items will open up reproductive choices for women in rural and remote areas that were not previously available to them. No woman should miss out on reproductive health services and that is why the RACGP pushed so hard for these changes.
“However, some Medicare items for longer telephone consultations will be scrapped from 1 July this year, including for chronic disease management plans, health assessments for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients, and some mental health items.
“I strongly believe longer telephone consultations are a vital part of the telehealth package and must be included in the extension to the end of this year.”
The RACGP President said that assisting rural and remote GPs was a high priority and that more investment was needed.
“The rural bulk billing incentives are a positive step forward, but we must use this as a launching point and go much, much further,” she said.
“I support the expansion of the allied health rural generalist pathway and establishing the John Flynn Prevocational Doctor Program to provide additional rural primary care training rotations for junior doctors is crucial – the RACGP will be keeping a close eye on that program. Any increase in funding for rural general practice needs to be part of a broader, more comprehensive, and holistic policy response.
“I also strongly back the allocation of $22.6 million to redesign the Practice Incentives Program — Indigenous Health Incentive. We will not close the gap and improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait health outcomes without measures such as this.
“Many of the measures announced tonight amount to a sold beginning for the support of vulnerable patient groups in Australia. It is very welcome after such a tough 12 months for many general practices and patients nation-wide.”