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14 Mar 2018

BY DR RICHARD KIDD, CHAIR, AMA COUNCIL OF GENERAL PRACTICE

I was astounded to read the reported comments of the Minister for Health about the effect on general practice of the next phase of the slow thaw of MBS indexation. While the unwinding of the freeze on patient rebates is welcome, it will not ‘transform’ General Practice as he reportedly suggested.

The damage to the viability of general practice has already been done and an increase to the standard rebate for GP consultation of around 55 cents will not undo this. At a time when we needed to invest in General Practice to meet the challenges of an ageing population and the growing burden of complex and chronic disease, practices have instead faced a real cut in the value of patient rebates while costs have continue to rise. This cut is permanent and will forever be a reminder of one of the poorest pieces of Government health policy that we have ever witnessed.    

Despite this, General Practice continues to show itself to be the most efficient and cost effective provider of health care across the health sector. In 2015-16 the total recurrent expenditure on General Practice in Australia by the Australian Government was $8.7 billion, compared to its total recurrent health expenditure of $160.2 billion. That means only about five per cent of total recurrent Commonwealth health expenditure is spent on General Practice.

The most recent Productivity Commission Report shows that the number of GP services in 2016-17 was 6.5 per head of population which is up from 5.9 services in 2011-12. This increase reflects the impact of complex and chronic disease in the community and the growing demand for GP services.

The report also highlighted the funding pressure that General Practice continues to operate under with figures showing that Australian Government total expenditure on GPs services per person increased by only 80 cents between 2015-16 and 2016-17.

If the Minister wants to see a transformation in General Practice, focusing on being able to do more to keep patients healthier and out of hospital, then he needs to fight for a better funding deal for General Practice.

It is time for the Government to deliver the funding to support the General Practice that the community deserves. One that is built on the objectives of Bodenheimer’s Quadruple Aim ensuring an enhanced patient experience, improved population health, reduced costs and provider satisfaction. Ensuring practices have the resources to utilise the 10 building blocks of high performing primary care is how we will truly transform General Practice to safeguard a high-quality, equitable and sustainable health system into the future.  

What we have in General Practice is good, and the envy of many, but we must evolve to meet the growing needs and expectations of the community. While we all must acknowledge the Health Minister’s efforts within Government to convince his colleagues to take action on the MBS freeze, he needs to do more. Now is the time for him to stand up for General Practice and leave a more enduring legacy than simply reversing a dud policy.


Published: 14 Mar 2018