The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has called for action in the lead up to the federal election to ensure general practice is affordable and accessible to all.
Opposition Health Minister and Ballarat federal MP Catherine King says more than one million Australians are delaying a doctor's visit - or putting off filling a prescriptions - because they can't afford it.
The call for all sides of politics to commit to 'properly' funding primary healthcare comes after ongoing concerns about difficulty accessing general practitioners in Ballarat.
The Courier reported a shortage of general practitioners is increasing pressure on walk-in clinics and the Ballarat Health Service Base Hospital emergency department and making patients wait up to two weeks for an appointment with their regular doctor.
Opposition Health Minister and Ballarat federal MP Catherine King wrote to Minister for Health Greg Hunt on February 16 to 'request an urgent update on any action the Commonwealth is taking to improve access to general practice in the Ballarat region, and to strongly urge further action'.
Ms King told The Courier on Wednesday Mr Hunt had dismissed her concerns regarding the provision of general practitioners in Ballarat in his response.
The Department of Health requested the Rural Workforce Agency Victoria investigate any issues with general practitioners in Ballarat through a Health Workforce Needs Assessment in January.
Meanwhile, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has called for action in four key areas to ensure general practice is affordable and accessible:
- modernise medicine through improved use of technology in healthcare delivery,
- address increasing patient out-of-pocket costs by ensuring patient rebates reflect the true cost of providing care,
- improve supports for mental healthcare delivered by general practitioners, and
- recognise and support the time and skill required to work through complex health issues
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Dr Harry Nespolon said general practice would not be able to keep delivering quality preventive, acute and chronic care if theses actions were not taken.
"This will lead to increased hospital use and costs," he said.
Governments need to understand that when it comes to healthcare, keeping people productive and healthy doesn't happen within hospitals, it happens, every day, in the consultation rooms of local general practices.Dr Harry Nespolon
Ms King said Labor had concerns regarding the provision of primary healthcare around Australia.
She said if elected, Labor would unfreeze the 100 general practice Medicare Benefits Schedule items which are scheduled to remain frozen by the Morrison Government until 2020. These include services like mental health plan.
The Medicare Benefits Schedule is a listing of the Medicare services subsidised by the Australian government.
"The Morrison Government's ongoing Medicare freeze has seen $3 billion cut from Medicare and made it harder for practices to bulk bill and pushing more costs onto patients," Ms King said.
"A recent Productivity Commission report reveals Australians are spending on average $357 a year to see their local doctor - up from $325 when the Liberals took office in 2013.
"That has led to more than one million Australians delaying a doctor's visit - or putting off filling a prescriptions - because they can't afford it."
Ms King said when Labor was last in government, incentives encouraged bulk billing especially for pensioners, people with healthcare cards and those in regional areas.
"These incentives are important to ensure that bulk-billing options are available to all Australians, not just those in the major metropolitan centres," she said.
"Labor will continue to support primary health care and ensure that Australians all around the country have the health care they need."
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