Health policy - lots of speculation but no consultation

9 Apr 2014

AMA President, Dr Steve Hambleton, today called on the Government to engage in meaningful consultation with the medical profession about the future of primary health care, and put an end to the crazy policy speculation being floated in the media.

Dr Hambleton said that reports of a possible charge for ‘low acuity’ patients treated in emergency departments are further proof that policymakers are more focused on budget savings than patient care.

“Category 4 and Category 5 emergency department patients are not necessarily GP patients – they are the patients who can safely wait for care,” Dr Hambleton said.

“They are not clogging up the emergency departments, so the proposal is trying to solve a problem that does not exist.

“The problem in emergency departments is lack of capacity in the hospital to move sick people out of the emergency department into inpatient beds.”

Dr Hambleton said it is not possible to develop significant health policy that works without first consulting with the people who work in the front line of the health system every day.

“The Government needs to clarify its position on primary care, especially general practice,” Dr Hambleton said.

“Making policy on the run is no way to equip the health system to meet future needs.

“All the speculation ahead of the Budget is about GP co-payments, freezing Medicare rebates, means testing, and now a charge for patients who go to emergency departments with minor ailments.

“These proposals are targeted at the wrong end of the health system, they would produce disincentives for people to see their doctor, and they would create loads of new red tape for medical practices.

“There is already means testing in the health system through processes such as the application of the Family Tax Benefits to Medicare Safety Net thresholds. The new proposals would put a means test on top of a means test.

“The GP co-payments idea could actually lead to increased costs to the health system, and should be ruled out immediately.

“Freezing Medicare rebates would have a compounding effect on patient out of pocket costs, creating another disincentive for people to see their doctor.

“Targeting GP services for savings is a false economy that would lead to greater costs down the track.

“General practice is a very efficient part of the health system, helping minimise the number of people who end up needing far more expensive hospital or chronic care.

“There is not a significant problem with supposed unnecessary use of GP services. This is a furphy.

“The greater concern is putting barriers in the way of people seeking relatively inexpensive GP treatment for health complaints.

“Forcing people to avoid seeing the doctor for minor ailments is a dangerous and expensive policy direction. Minor ailments become major ailments if not treated early.”

Dr Hambleton said the international evidence shows that the key to a sustainable health system that delivers high quality outcomes for patients is to ensure the barriers to accessing primary care are low.

“Rather than looking to make savings in general practice, the Government should be investing more in primary care and prevention,” Dr Hambleton said.

“The main problems facing our health system are the ageing population and the growing incidence of complex and chronic diseases.

“We need to do more to decrease the impacts of alcohol, tobacco, and obesity on our population.

“We need to keep people out of hospital, where care is much more expensive.”


9 April 2014


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