With Australians still battling inflation, more needs to be done to improve access to affordable care, starting with critical health checks for children, says the Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP).
The RACGP is calling on the Federal Government to improve access to care and affordability in its pre-Budget Submission 2024-25, amid widespread evidence that Australians are delaying essential care due to financial concerns.
RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins said: “Last year’s Budget was a critical first step to rebuild Medicare and general practice after decades of underfunding.
“But with Australians still battling the cost-of-living crisis, more needs to be done to improve access to general practice care for the rest of the population – particularly our children, people with chronic disease and mental health issues.
“General practice helps people live healthier and it needs to be affordable for everyone. Because when people can’t afford it, they get sicker and go to hospital, which costs taxpayers much more. A typical GP consult is $40, whereas a hospital visit costs $600.
“And when children miss out on this essential care, it impacts the rest of their life.
“That’s why the RACGP is calling for the next Budget to include funding for universal annual children’s health checks for the first 2,000 days – this is a critical period which sets a child up for life. This request is in line with the NDIS review recommendation that these checks are expanded and nationally consistent, so no child misses out.
“To improve access to care across Australia, we’re also calling for the next Budget to include a 20% increase to patients’ rebates for longer consults and mental health, with extra support for rural patients. This will also make a big difference for patients with chronic illness who need more time with their GP to turn their health around.
“We’re also calling for funding for people to see their GP after an unplanned hospital visit, so they don’t wind up back there – a 12% reduction in hospital readmissions would save at least $69 million annually.
“Together, these investments will make Australia healthier, set our children up for a healthier life, reduce pressure on hospitals and lead to a stronger economy. In 2017 the Productivity Commission estimated improving the health of people in poor or fair health would result in an extra $4 billion GDP growth annually.”
With the government progressing reforms to better enable GPs and other health professionals to work in teams to improve care for patients, the RACGP President also called for support for practices to grow their teams.
“It’s vital that practices are supported to grow and employ more nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, and allied health professionals, such as psychologists and occupational therapists,” she said.
“The evidence shows the value of team care for patients. Teams with GPs and nurses help people stay out of hospital, while having a pharmacist in the practice improves the quality of prescribing and reduces costs for patients. It also frees up time for patients needing urgent or complex care, because GPs can delegate to other qualified team members.
“So, supporting practices to grow their teams will directly benefit patients, improving access to care and reducing costs.
“General practice is essential, and it needs to be able to thrive in every community. And I urge the government to use this next Budget to continue its work to strengthen Medicare and general practice for generations to come."
To improve access to care and affordability, in its pre-Budget Submission 2024-25 the RACGP is calling for:
Funding for universal annual children’s health checks for the first 2,000 days, which sets a child up for life.
Support for practices to grow their teams and employ other health professionals to improve care and access for patients by increasing incentives and dedicated funding for a practice-based pharmacist.
New funding to support coordinated care for older Australians requiring complex care to improve health outcomes and reduce costs to the health system.
Funding to support patients to see their GP within seven days of an unplanned hospital visit to improve health outcomes and reduce readmissions.
A 20% increase to patients’ Medicare rebates for longer consultations and extra support for rural patients to make care more affordable and accessible, especially for those with chronic and complex health issues.
A 20% increase in patient rebates for GP mental health consultations to reduce Australia’s burden of mental health issues.
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.