$220m in practice grants coming soon

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Sums of up to $50k are up for grabs, but the money must be used on digital health, infection control or maintaining accreditation standards.

It’s not an increase in Medicare rebates, but virtually all GP practices and some Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations can expect some extra cash.

Health Minister Mark Butler is delivering on one of Labor’s key election promises, with $220 million in grant money for general practice set to be available soon.

Letters from local PHNs and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation will be sent to practices over the next few weeks with instructions on how to apply.

The grant program falls under the government’s Strengthening Medicare banner but is separate from the $750 million in funding set aside to action the recommendations from the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce.

Small practices will be eligible for either $25,000 or $35,000 grants, while larger practices will receive $50,000 each.

Unaccredited practices will only receive a maximum of $25,000.

All GP clinics are eligible, but only some ACCHOs will be able to receive the grants. There is no detail available yet on the eligibility criteria for ACCHOs.

The grants will come with a catch, though – it can on only be spent on enhancing digital health capability, upgrading infection prevention and control arrangements and maintaining or achieving accreditation against the RACGP standards.

ACRRM president Dr Dan Halliday said the funding was welcome and a step in the right direction.

“However, it is just that – a step in the right direction,” he told The Medical Republic.

“We do identify that there’s been significant underinvestment in general practice as a whole in the recent past, and this is an opportunity to actually change that direction.”

Because general practice has been underfunded for so long, the grant money represents more of a top-up to get practices back to a baseline level of functionality than a funding injection to help general practice reach new heights.

A shiny, new, up-to-scratch practice – for instance – won’t be much use if there isn’t a GP to work in it.

“We encourage opportunities such as this, to begin to reinvest within general practice and look at other opportunities which may flow from improving practising infrastructure,” Dr Halliday said.

“Things which may not have been the [practice’s] priority due to financial constraints and other factors of late.”

RACGP president Dr Nicole Higgins also welcomed the funding and said it would provide a “morale boost” for GPs and practice teams.

“Getting practice infrastructure right is so important, because practices take on such a wide range of functions and responsibilities, particularly in rural and remote areas where access to other healthcare services can be few and far between,” she said.

“Half of practice owners are concerned about long-term practice viability; so, programs like this are not only useful but recognise the major issues general practice has been facing.”

From the AMA, president Professor Steve Robson encouraged GPs to look closely at the opportunities provided by the grants to see if they believe the money will help meet patient needs.

“We now turn our focus to next month’s budget to see concrete measures to boost general practice, which is the cornerstone of our national healthcare system,” he said.

“The AMA is calling for additional, targeted investment in Medicare to improve access to GPs for our most vulnerable communities.”

Will your practice be participating? Let us know at holly@medicalrepublic.com.au.

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