Victoria’s code brown highlights vital role of general practice

Royal Australian College of GPs

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners is warning that GPs and general practice teams are likely to come under increasing pressure and will need more support from government to take on an even greater workload.

It comes following the Victorian Government declaring a state-wide “code brown” for Victorian hospitals under pressure from COVID-19 admissions and furloughing of staff.

RACGP President Dr Karen Price said that general practice was already under extreme pressure.

“The message being sent to all people is that they should avoid going to hospital wherever possible if they can manage their care at home or with their GP,” she said.

“We are now going to see a surge in demand for general practice care, including COVID-19-positive people seeking telehealth consults as well as managing patients who have had to delay elective surgery.

“This comes at a time when GPs, practice managers, nurses, receptionists and administrative workers are under more pressure than ever before. We are flat out delivering children’s vaccines and boosters and managing our usual day-to-day care, including patients who have delayed or avoided consults and screenings during the pandemic.

“Practices also have many staff members furloughed because they are close contacts or COVID-19-positive themselves and many practice teams are experiencing burnout after an exhausting two years on the frontline of this pandemic.”

Dr Price said that the declaration highlighted why greater investment in general practice was sorely needed.

“GPs and general practice teams will step up once again and do all we can for our patients, but we will need a helping hand from government,” she said.

“Today’s code brown declaration comes on the same day the Royal Australian College of GPs launched our 2022 Election Statement. We are urging federal Government to institute reforms to enhance patient health outcomes that could save at least $1 billion within a year while ensuring practice can continue to meet their patients’ needs across Australia.

“To continue to support safe, high-quality care during the pandemic and into the future we need the federal Government to include Medicare items for longer telehealth telephone consultations, mental health, and GP management plans as part of the permanent telehealth model.

“It is positive news the federal Government announced a six-month restoration of Medicare rebates for longer Level C telephone consultations of 20 to 40 minutes. However, we need see this made permanent as well as Level D telephone consults of 40 minutes plus to support complex care.

“We also need additional funding to adequately rollout vaccines to children and boosters to eligible adults. Practices did not sign up to deliver COVID-19 vaccines for the money by any stretch, but we do need to make ends meet.

“Additional funding will allow us to run more vaccination clinics, including on weekends and after-hours. This will speed up the rollout process at a time when many families are anxious to have their children vaccinated before term one of school starts.

“Keep in mind too that in just a fortnight’s time the interval for eligibility for a booster dose will be reduced to three months, which will mean more than 16 million people will be ready to roll up their sleeve again at the start of February. If we are to meet this demand, we will need to step up our efforts even further and that will prove incredibly difficult without further support from government.”

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 equity in health and life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

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