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Australia's front line health care at breaking point: RACGP

13 December, 2016

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is warning the provision of essential medical care for Australians has reached a crossroads and the nation's general practice profession is at breaking point.

With 34,500 members seeing almost 500,000 patients across Australia every working day, the RACGP says the Federal Government's actions are hitting GPs and their patients hard.

RACGP President Dr Bastian Seidel said poorly thought through health policy such as the unfair extended Medicare rebate freeze for patients and the significantly underfunded and rushed Health Care Homes program means the evidence is clear patients are paying more than ever before out of their own pockets to see their GP.

"GPs and their patients are at breaking point, patient well-being is being put at risk, and the Federal Government is just not taking the concerns of GPs and their patients seriously. The consequences for Australia's health care system at large will be disastrous," he said.

"Australian and international evidence clearly indicates that if financially vulnerable patients are forced to pay out of pocket, those patients will delay seeking advice and treatment.

"General practice has to be supported and funded appropriately. Ongoing cuts are symptomatic of a flawed health policy that will harm patients as well as the taxpayer.

"We've had discussions behind closed doors; we've raised issues; we've put out warnings; we've even taken the unprecedented move of launching a public awareness campaign before the Federal election.

"We know that GPs are being forced to stop bulk billing patients as the Medicare rebate does not reflect the true value of world class evidence based healthcare.

"If the Medicare freeze continues there are two possible outcomes: either patients are asked to pay more to see their GP, or GPs will close their practices as the provision of quality health care may no longer be viable."

RACGP data and Department of Health figures show under 65% of patients were fully bulk billed for all their GP services in 2015-16 and evidence shows the figure will decline in 2016-17. The RACGP has also seen a significant increase in out of pocket costs for GP services at more than five times inflation over the same period.

"Health polices need to be evidence based. We understand that political parties want to introduce their own political flavours, but the core ingredients have to be scientifically sound and they need to make sense. Defunding general practice and targeting patients in need of seeing their GP does not make any sense," Dr Seidel said.

"It is time for a serious discussion with the Federal Government on a new primary health care funding model that will protect the health outcomes of all Australians in a financially sustainable and responsible manner."

From Sunday night the RACGP will run a national campaign to highlight to political decision makers of all parties just what GPs actually do on a daily basis. The important role GPs play in delivering the health care that our community needs and deserves.

"The campaign is a reminder that we're anything but 'just GPs' – we are Specialists in Life," said Dr Seidel.

The Specialist in Life campaign highlights the value of general practice and the importance of education and learning gained through membership of the RACGP. The campaign comprises TV, radio outdoor, digital and social media advertising.

Campaign media assets including high res video, images and audio grabs are available on request.

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