High-quality general practice care is key to healthier communities and lower spending on hospitals worldwide – that’s the resounding message from Australian and international GPs and academics at the WONCA World Conference Sydney 2023.
WONCA 2023 is being hosted by the Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP) – bringing one of the largest global conferences for GPs to Australia for the first time in over 20 years.
RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins and former President Adjunct Professor Karen Price will open the conference, which runs from 26 to 29 October 2023.
Day one of WONCA 2023 puts the spotlight on healthcare funding and reform, with keynote presentations by WONCA President Dr Anna Stavdal, on healthcare in uncertain times, and Professor Trish Greenhalgh OBE, on a sector suffering.
It will also see the launch of the 10th edition RACGP Guidelines for preventive care in general practice (the Red book).
WONCA President Dr Anna Stavdal said WONCA is an opportunity to define general practice and family medicine for the future.
“We will need to redefine our role in our transforming health systems’ structures, certainly at the organisational level, and in our everyday clinical practices as well,” Dr Stavdal said.
“Flexibility must be built into our renewed structures to help us tackle future changes, which are guaranteed to come.
“But first, we need to look at the core values of our discipline and explore whether they stand their ground in the rapid change we observe on all levels of society. Can we identify a common global denominator of family medicine, to guide us in advocacy and professional development in the time to come? A plan for action for family medicine is the theme of my opening keynote at the WONCA 2023 Conference in Sydney.”
Professor Trish Greenhalgh OBE said in the face of the health workforce’s ongoing challenges, addressing suffering through an approach that draws from literature, philosophy, and spirituality could facilitate the conference’s theme of recovery, reconnection, and revival.
“In early 2020, general practitioners and other primary care staff around the world stepped forward to play a vital part in the response to the worst pandemic in over a century,” Professor Greenhalgh said.
“Almost four years after the first case of COVID-19 was identified, it is time to take stock and look to the future. But to do that, we need to reflect on how the primary care sector was – and in many ways still is – suffering. Suffering in the context of a professional role occurs when we are physically and mentally overwhelmed and when our sense of self does not align with what we are expected to do at work.
“In this lecture, I will be presenting images of suffering from the arts and literature and examining how the theme of suffering can help us make sense of individual and collective traumas. I will also introduce philosophical and religious notions of compassion and transcendence to help set the scene for the theme of the conference: ‘Recovery, Reconnection, Revival’.”
RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins is presenting at WONCA 2023 on approaches to primary care reform and how to bolster Medicare in the 21st century and said now is the time to implement reforms to revive the GP profession and maintain access for all patients.
Dr Higgins said past experience shows general practice needs to be at the centre of health system reforms.
“Everyone needs access to general practice care – it keeps people healthy and lowers spending on hospitals,” she said.
“Our Federal Government has shown it recognises the value of general practice care and has committed to strengthening general practice and Medicare. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to reform our health system for better patient outcomes and greater efficiency.
“We know that general practice needs to be at the centre of health system reforms. Like many countries, Australia is grappling with an ageing population and rising burden of chronic disease. Our health system increasingly needs to provide complex ongoing care to patients – and for the best care, it needs to support GPs working in multidisciplinary teams.
“GPs are like orchestra conductors in that we know what instruments need to play and when for the best sound. But our orchestra is the patient, and our role is not getting the right sounds but making sure our patient gets the right care from the right specialist or nurse or pharmacist at the right time for their best health and wellbeing. And any reforms need to support this vital role.”
RACGP deputy NSW Chair and Chair of the RACGP Expert Committee on Funding and Health System Reform, Dr Michael Wright, is also speaking about general practice funding reforms at WONCA 2023.
Dr Michael Wright said a long-term approach is essential for health system reform.
“We have a once in a generation opportunity to reform Medicare and it’s crucial that the funding reforms support our patients and support us as GPs to provide the care they need,” he said.
“We need to learn from previous reform attempts which have shown that short-term and complex reform is unlikely to succeed, and that funding aligning with our own internal motivation, and supporting patient care are much more likely to improve health outcomes and decrease costs for our health system. But those cost savings in the system will require upfront investment in general practice.
“It’s been said before that general practice is the engine room of the health system, and we need to make sure that the engine room is appropriately fuelled and resourced.”
Hosted by the RACGP, the WONCA conference theme is “Recovery, reconnection, and revival. A celebration of primary care.” WONCA includes more than 800 presentations and workshops from over 700 local and international presenters from around the world. It will feature over 50 streams, covering a range of issues being faced by GPs including health reform, mental health, women’s health, climate change, rural practice, and more.
RACGP spokespeople are available for interview.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is the peak representative organisation for general practice, the backbone of Australia’s health system. We set the standards for general practice, facilitate lifelong learning for GPs, connect the general practice community, and advocate for better health and wellbeing for all Australians.