GP Network News, Issue 13 Number 9

8 Mar 2013

GP Leaders Demand No Budget Cuts To GP Care

Australia's GP leaders - United General Practice Australia (UGPA) - met in Canberra this week to discuss a range of issues affecting general practice, with the primary focus on the Government's current review of Medicare rebates for patients with chronic and complex disease.

UGPA members unanimously called on the Minister for Health, Tanya Plibersek, to immediately rule out any cuts to Medicare support for quality GP care in the May budget.

UGPA recommends that the Government review should focus on better supporting long-term structured care for patients; strengthening the role of the usual GP; better linking access to allied health services with the clinical needs of the patient; and reducing red tape.

The leaders said that the Government must recognise the key role that general practice plays in caring for patients with chronic diseases.

Patients currently have good access to quality and structured chronic disease management. While UGPA recognises the fiscal pressures that the Government faces, withdrawing funding for the care of patients with complex and chronic disease, who are often the most vulnerable in society and can least afford higher out-of-pocket costs, cannot be justified.

Click here to view the full press release.

'Too Many GPs' Report Defies Reality

AMA President, Dr Steve Hambleton, this week said the view of frontline primary care in Australia depicted by demographer Dr Bob Birrell's report Too Many GPs defies the reality of people in suburbs and rural communities struggling to access quality primary care because of the shortage of GPs.

Dr Hambleton said the report appears to rely on a previously discredited analysis of the GP workforce that resulted in previous Governments cutting back on GP training, which led to the shortages we see today. He added that billings data couldn't be used to estimate full time equivalent GP numbers.

"The report's conclusions do not concur with the recent AIHW report, Medical Workforce 2011, which found that the supply of GPs fell from 111.9 to 109.7 full time equivalent per 100,000 population between 2007 and 2011.

"The most recent report of Health Workforce Australia, Health Workforce 2025, confirmed that Australia is in the middle of a GP workforce shortage.

"The AMA rejects the report's suggestion that the Federal Government must restrict access to Medicare provider numbers to better distribute the GP workforce. Addressing GP shortages, particularly in rural areas, requires a comprehensive approach that includes appropriate incentives, professional support, and takes into account the needs of a GP's family members with respect to access to education and other family needs," Dr Hambleton said.

Click here for the AMA's plan to build a better rural and regional medical workforce.

Click here to view the full press release.

AMA To Work With Medical Board On Health Services for Doctors

The AMA will work closely with the Medical Board of Australia (MBA) to design a sustainable model of accessible services to help doctors look after their own health, following the MBA's announcement this week that it would provide funding for external doctors' health services across the country from 2013-14. 

Dr Hambleton said that the experience of existing doctors' health advisory services, and the available evidence in the literature, supports structured and accessible programs to assist doctors to maintain their health and to have access to appropriate health services.

The AMA welcomes the Board's decision to fund the health services from the existing pool of doctor registration fees held by the MBA. The AMA has previously proposed that the MBA fund doctors' health advisory services that currently operate because they have established networks and strong local knowledge.

"It is important that the MBA funds the services, but equally important that the funding arrangements remain independent from the MBA and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency to ensure privacy, and to allow doctors to trust these services and use them at an early stage in their illness," Dr Hambleton said.

The AMA conducted an extensive survey of its members in 2012 that showed strong support for the MBA to fund external doctors' health services.

Click here to view the full press release.

New Report on Primary Health Care

The National Health Performance Authority (NHPA) yesterday released its first report on primary health care titled Healthy Communities: Australians experience with primary health care in 2010-11. The report confirms that our GPs have worked hard to maintain affordability of health care, with no additional assistance from government, and to provide quality care based on a strong and ongoing relationship with their patients.

The Healthy Communities report specifically reports on: health status; GP attendances; measures of patient experiences; wait times for GP services; and after-hours GP service utilisation. It indicates that:

  • very few Australians reported cost barriers to seeing a GP (at least 85% of adults across all Medicare Local areas did not report cost barriers, in most cases more than 90% reported no barriers);
  • a high percentage of adults have a preferred GP (ranging from 95% to 78% across Medicare local populations); and
  • a similarly high percentage of patients considered their GP always or often listened carefully to them (ranging from 96% to 83%).

NHPA has indicated that while the current report is based on the Australian Bureau of Statistics' patient survey from 2010-11 and Medicare data, NHPA has '20 data sources' for future Healthy Communities reporting. NHPA states it will publish future reports on the comparable performance of health care organisations to stimulate improvements in the health system, increase transparency and accountability and inform consumers.

Influenza Vaccination Information for 2013

Clinical advice for immunisation providers regarding administration of the 2013 trivalent seasonal influenza vaccine is now available on the Department of Health and Ageing's (DoHA) Immunise Australia Program website.

The H1N1 pandemic influenza virus strain, A(H1N1)pdm09, which was in the southern hemisphere trivalent seasonal influenza vaccine during 2010, 2011 and 2012, is again incorporated in the 2013 seasonal trivalent influenza vaccine. The second influenza A strain and the influenza B strain will, however, be changed from previous years.

There are six seasonal influenza vaccines approved by the TGA for use in Australia in 2013. Of these, Agrippal® (Novartis), Fluarix®(GlaxoSmithKline), Influvac® (Abbott) and Vaxigrip® (Sanofi) are approved for use in persons aged 6 months and older.

GPs are reminded that Fluvax® (CSL) is not approved by the TGA for use in children under 5 years of age in 2013 and must not be given to this age group. Fluvax® (CSL) is approved for use in persons 5 years and older; however, the Product Information for  Fluvax®  (CSL) indicates that this vaccine should only be used in children aged 5 to 9 years based on careful consideration of potential benefits and risks to the individual.

Intanza® (Sanofi: 9 µg per strain per 0.1 mL dose for intradermal administration) is approved only for adults aged 18 to 59 years.

Click here to visit the DoHA Immunise Australia website.

TGA alert: Fluarix influenza vaccine

GPs are advised that GlaxoSmithKline Australia (GSK), in consultation with the TGA, has issued a precautionary product notification for its influenza vaccine, Fluarix.

The TGA has received a report that one dose of Fluarix vaccine failed to be completely administered because of a manufacturing defect, in which what appeared to be a piece of glass-like material blocked the action of the syringe.

No harm to the patient was reported.

According to the TGA, this manufacturing defect is an extremely rare event (occurring at a rate of less than one report in 10 million doses distributed worldwide). In the unlikely event it happens again, it is similarly unlikely to pose a significant safety risk to the patient.

Further investigation into the cause of the problem is being undertaken.

The TGA has agreed that the Fluarix vaccine currently being distributed can continue to be used, but has advised health professionals to visually inspect the pre-filled syringes prior to administration.

Click here for further information on the TGA product alert.

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In this issue:

AMA is the peak medical organisation in Australia representing the profession’s interests to Government and the wider community. Your Federal AMA General Practice Policy team can be contacted via email or by phone (02) 6270 5400. You can unsubscribe from GPNN by emailing