6 Oct 2022 6:00 AM
General practice leaders are calling for an immediate and substantial increase in Medicare patient rebates and the bulk-billing incentive after an emergency summit in Canberra organised by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP).
The RACGP, Australia’s largest representative body for GPs, organised the summit after mounting evidence that general practice is on the brink, with almost half of all GPs surveyed for the 2022 Health of the Nation report saying it is financially unsustainable for them to continue working as a GP.
The General Practice Crisis Summit brought together a wide cross-section of leaders from general practice, including peak bodies, consumer groups, primary care organisations, academia and government to develop solutions to secure the future of general practice care in Australia.
RACGP President Adj.Professor Karen Price urged the government to act on the recommendations.
“The time for talk is over, we need immediate action to ensure the future of patient care in Australia,” she said.
“The evidence is clear that general practice is in crisis and it’s impacting the health and wellbeing of people in communities across Australia, who are struggling to access and afford the care they need.
“The initial recommendations from the Summit should send a strong message.
“We are calling for an immediate and substantial increase in Medicare patient rebates, and an increase to the bulk-billing incentive by at least two to three times. This is particularly important for our rural and remote communities, which we know have poorer health outcomes and life expectancy, as well as those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged.
“We are also calling for appropriate and ongoing indexation for MBS items, so that it is in line with the real-world costs of providing high-quality care in communities across the country.
“The evidence has been mounting for some time now that general practice is on the brink. And our latest Health of the Nation report made it clear, with just 3% of GPs surveyed saying current Medicare rebates are sufficient to cover the cost of providing high-quality care, and almost three in four reporting feelings of burnout over the past year.
“Without genuine change, the future of patient care is in jeopardy. More people will struggle to access a GP and bulk billing will continue to collapse, making it harder for people to get the care they need when they need it. It is not a stretch to predict health outcomes declining and missed opportunities for preventive care putting more people in hospital. This will be felt most acutely by patients who are financially disadvantaged.
“We are in this crisis because Australia’s general practice patients have been stripped of funding via falling Medicare rebates, which don't cover the cost of providing health services. This erosion of healthcare funding for patients has occurred over decades, today’s government can and must change this.
“We need to ensure equitable access to care, with enough GPs to care for people in every community, because everyone needs access to high-quality care no matter their income or postcode.”
The RACGP will release the detailed recommendations from the General Practice Crisis Summit in a White Paper over coming weeks, including short, medium, and long term reforms. It will include recommendations to pivot the health system to preventing illness and keeping people well in the community, rather than the current hospital-centric disease-specific model, which will lead to overall savings for the health budget.
The RACGP’s Vision for general practice and a sustainable healthcare system outlines the urgent need to restructure the healthcare system into one that provides the right care for patients at the right time and in the right place, and that is sustainably funded into the future.