Call to boost GP funding could go unanswered

3 minute read

The interim findings of an inquiry into non-urban primary care were promising – then an election got in the way.

A Senate committee recommendation that outer metropolitan, rural and regional primary care be given a funding boost now lies in limbo after the committee decided it was unable to provide a comprehensive final report.

The announcement yesterday has frustrated the RACGP, which welcomed a substantial interim report handed down by the Community Affairs References Committee on 1 April 2022.

However, nine days later, the House of Representatives was dissolved, raising doubts about the future of the recommendation.

The committee reached its interim conclusions following an inquiry into the provision of GP and other primary health services in non-metro areas. The inquiry attracted 218 submissions, with public hearings held in Canberra, Erina, Launceston, Whyalla, Melbourne and Emerald.

The RACGP warmly welcomed the interim report.

“Now, it is vital for the future of our health system that the interim report’s recommendation supporting a funding boost for general practice care isn’t lost in the wash,” RACGP vice president Dr Bruce Willett said in a statement.

“The time for change is now, so I certainly hope the interim report is referred to a new committee and that, more importantly, the government eventually takes action to boost funding for general practice care.

“We are watching all of this very closely and won’t hesitate to speak out again.”

The committee’s nine recommendations include one that the federal government “investigates substantially increasing the Medicare rebates for all levels of general practice consultations, as well as other general practice funding options”.

It also recommended the government examine the distribution of GPs in rural and regional Australia; open up its review of the Modified Monash Model for public consultation; have the health department carry out a comprehensive review of the Stronger Rural Health Strategy; and assess the AGPT placements allocated to the colleges.

Yesterday, the committee provided a one-page final report – of sorts.

The statement noted that “after due consideration, and in light of the committee’s substantive interim report [it] has determined it is unable to provide a comprehensive final report at this point in time”.

It added that “there is merit for this inquiry to be re-referred to the committee in the new parliament”.

A re-referral can occur if a senator proposes it and the proposal is approved by the Senate.

If it is referred, the committee can then report based on the evidence it has heard to date; it can pick a particular area of interest and ask for further submissions on that; or it can even hold a completely new inquiry.

Liberal Senator Hollie Hughes provided several of the inquiry’s more dramatic moments, sparking outrage when the issue of GP burnout was raised at the Melbourne hearing.

“You’re sitting here telling us that government needs to solve the problem because GPs are burnt out,” the senator told Australian Medical Students Association president Jasmine Davis, who was providing testimony about struggles to recruit doctors in outer-metro areas.

“How do you think businesses and small businesses feel? They have had exactly the same sorts of issues through covid, yet we’re travelling around the country listening to complaints from people who earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, who are quite often the highest-paid people in country towns, and yet expect the government to further incentivise them.”

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