The bulk billing clinics will be built near existing hospitals to relieve congested emergency rooms.
The Victoria and New South Wales governments will each establish 25 emergency care services in partnership with GPs to ease record demand in state emergency departments.
The services will be operational for an extended period and will be well equipped to deal with conditions including mild infections, fractures and burns, according to an announcement by Premiers Daniel Andrews and Dominic Perrottet. Patients, including non-Medicare cardholders, are not billed for services performed at the clinics.
“It has never been more difficult to find a GP who can handle bulk billing after hours,” Premier Andrews told reporters at a joint press event at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Center.
“Since people can’t find a free doctor with bulk billing, for many the only free choice is to go to the hospital, or maybe wait [for care] longer than they want to wait and their condition keeps getting worse.
“Instead of whining about it, we’re doing something about it.”
The RACGP has responded positively to the news, with President Adjunct Professor Karen Price saying it is time for state and federal governments to work together to create a healthcare system.
“There is a lot of patient suffering when health is used as a political soccer ball and this plan signals an end to that,” she said.
“This initiative begins with the implementation of one of the goals of the ten-year plan for primary health care.
“It makes sense for state governments to recognize the critical role that family practice plays and the ability to work in acute care and after-hours work, which is a traditional field for full-time general practitioners.
“RACGP looks forward to evaluating these clinics and working on the concept of ‘one healthcare system’ to create seamless care for patients in need.”
Professor Price also called for similar programs to be set up to make this type of care available to every general practice in Australia.
“This level of care should not have been defunded in the first place,” she said.
“Furthermore, a nationwide investment would improve the evidence-based continuity of care model, as we know that most patients prefer to see their usual trusted family doctor.
“The lost decades of underinvestment in general medicine have never been more evident than during a pandemic.”
Meanwhile, said Dr. Anita Muñoz, Chair of RACGP Victoria, said it was encouraging that state governments were getting more involved in primary care, but warned that GPs still needed more support.
“We made it clear that practices should not be financially compromised by participating in these programs and that emergency clinics are not here to provide the usual care that is best provided by a patient’s own primary care physician,” she said.
‘Conditions [funding] Community practice activities indicate an understanding that innovative solutions to problems affecting our healthcare system, including flexible financing arrangements, are the way to bring patients the right healthcare services in the right place at the right time.’
The new services will be commissioned in partnership with Primary Health Networks, with locations determined based on the population, community needs and emergency room demand.
As part of the Victoria package, 10 centers will work with hospitals in Frankston, Bendigo, Casey, Albury-Wodonga, Dandenong, Latrobe, Werribee and Box Hill, as well as Austin Hospital and Alfred Hospital. This is in addition to five other locations revealed last week, while a further 10 Victorian locations will be announced “soon”.
Meanwhile, NSW has recently established partnerships with GPs and primary health networks in West Sydney, Murrumbidgee, North Sydney and West NSW.
A joint press release from the NSW and Victorian governments said the locations of future emergency care services in NSW will be provided where there is “greatest need” based on the needs of hospital emergency departments, including where services are rapidly expanding be able.
While the new partnerships are limited to NSW and Victoria, Premier Perrottet said states and territories across Australia have been under similar pressure to find long-term solutions to the “emergency supplies crisis”.
‘We’ve looked inside [NSW] a 30% increase in presentations in our emergency departments over the past 10 years, and that’s not a unique experience happening across the country,” he said.
“Here is an opportunity for two state governments, the largest states in the country, to work together in a space that has not traditionally been ours.”
At the beginning of her tenure, RACGP President Dr. Karen Price is pushing for reforms to address what she identified as a dysfunction in Australia’s state/territory and federal government healthcare system, while recently also calling for “integrated systems” to bridge the gap.
However, the college has also historically expressed fatigue over emergency clinics due to their potential for duplicating and fragmenting care, and has advocated for new services to be built on top of existing infrastructure.
A scheme introduced in 2019 by the Western Australian Government, involving more than 130 existing general practices, was hailed by RACGP WA as an “excellent solution” at the time, while Tasmania also received praise for a scheme whereby select clinics received US$150 from the state receive government for every patient they treat and keeps out of the hospital system.
These developments come on top of priority care clinics being supported by the South Australian government, while an extension of government funding for out-of-hours clinics in Tasmania was recently confirmed.
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