Time to Care: RACGP calls for federal investment to improve patient-centred primary care for Australians

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has released its Election Statement, urging the Federal Government to adopt a series of reforms aimed at improving patient health outcomes that could save at least $1 billion within a year while ensuring GP clinics can continue to meet their patients’ needs.

RACGP President Dr Karen Price said the COVID-19 pandemic had exacerbated cracks in Australia’s health system that were already evident. With rising rates of chronic disease, an ageing population and a looming mental health crisis causing unprecedented pressure, these cracks – including GP visits that are too short for complex cases – urgently need fixing.

“Good care requires time – time to listen, time to assess, time to collaborate with multidisciplinary healthcare providers and time to work with families. Time is especially important for patients with complex health needs,” Dr Price said.

“More time with a patient will ensure care is of higher quality. Longer GP visits help to build trust and assist with intensive clinical assessment of multiple health conditions and coordinating care with other health services.

“The pandemic demonstrated the value of general practice in keeping people safe, whether that be through continuing access to care through telehealth appointments or delivering more than 20 million vaccinations. Yet funding for general practice patient services represents the smallest proportion of the health funding at just 7.4% of the total government health spend in 2018/19.

“General practice is at the forefront of prevention and chronic disease management and more Commonwealth investment is needed to deliver on this vital role.”

Dr Price said this investment would not only benefit patient care and Australia’s health system, it would also ensure the future viability of general practice – thus ensuring communities continued to have access to their GP. “General practice is struggling to attract medical graduates,” she said. “At the same time, the complexity of care that patients need requires greater reliance on generalist skills. Investing in general practice is needed to sustain primary care into the future.

“We know some of our members are seriously struggling to keep their clinics afloat while making sure their patients receive the best possible health care. Our communities rely on these GPs and without them many patients will find themselves having to travel much further afield and being placed on long waiting lists to receive basic healthcare,” Dr Price explained.

The RACGP has identified five general practice initiatives to deliver improved patient-centred primary care for all Australians, enhancing the system’s quality and long-term sustainability.

The RACGP Election Statement calls for:

• federal investment in longer consultations for complex cases

• improved support for continuous and preventive care for vulnerable Australians, particularly for aged care, mental health, and disability

• a GP consultation within seven days of an unplanned hospital admission to reduce readmission chances

• providing greater incentives and rebates for rural GPs to gain and maintain additional skills to benefit their community

• reinstating Medicare items for longer telehealth telephone consultations, mental health, and GP management plans as part of the permanent telehealth model. The Federal Government has announced a six-month restoration of Medicare rebates for Level C telephone consultations. The RACGP would like to see this made permanent as well as Level D and other telehealth telephone consultations to support complex care.

The RACGP also urged the Government to invest in initiatives to boost equality in health and life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

RACGP-commissioned research by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that improved investment in general practice to support continuous, regular, coordinated care will improve healthcare outcomes while saving the health system money.

Economic benefits of implementing the RACGP’s Vision estimates that on top of improved health outcomes for all Australians, the reforms could lead to efficiencies of at least $1 billion in the first year and $5.6 billion over five years

Dr Price said as the backbone of Australia’s health system – more than 160 million GP services were provided in 2019-20 – more federal investment was needed to deliver on this vital role.

“GPs are treating an increasing number of people with not just one but two, three and four long-term conditions. Unlike other specialists, GPs treat the person, not just the condition, whether that be mental health, blood pressure, diabetes, or arthritis.

“GPs are ready for the challenges ahead, but we need a strong commitment now from the Government to make sure that GPs are available where they are needed, can meet the challenges of the future, and can work in the health systems of tomorrow. It’s time for reform. It’s time for more investment. It’s time for care.”

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