BEACH program closure a loss for general practice research: RACGP

12 April, 2016

The closure of the Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health (BEACH) program is disappointing and unacceptable for general practice research.

Data gathered and published by BEACH over the past 18 years has contributed significantly to the delivery of quality patient care, the health system, and the work of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP).

RACGP President Dr Frank R Jones said the closure, due to the withdrawal of Federal Government funding, was a 'bitter loss' and raised serious concerns about the future of GP research.

'The BEACH program has been the only source of valid, reliable and independent data about activities in general practice in Australia for over 18 years,' Dr Jones said.

'In fact, it is the only continuous, national study of general practitioners' actions in response to patient encounters in the world.

'BEACH data allows us to measure patterns and change over time, providing valuable insight into the delivery of patient care, including consultation time, the number of problems managed in each encounter, and treatment provided. None of this can be gleaned from the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and hospital data.'

Dr Jones said over 5,000 citations to the BEACH program have been made in medical journals and publications in the past 18 years. There are over 100 commissioned BEACH reports every year, which are used by professional organisations, non-government organisations, and industry to guide policy decisions and practice guidelines, including the RACGP's Guidelines for preventive activities in general practice (Red Book), the SNAP Guide and Prescribing drugs of dependence in general practice.

'General practitioners see 85% of the population annually and to date, funding for GP-related research accounts for less than 2% of National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) grants,' Dr Jones said.

'There is no logic to this move. It has simply added insult to injury for general practice.

'BEACH data has made a critical contribution to primary healthcare policy, providing the evidence by which decisions can be made by government.

'It has contributed and analysed data used to inform the primary healthcare strategy, the MBS Review, and many Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) submissions.'

The University of Sydney's BEACH media statement today warned: 'Without BEACH there will be very little reliable, independent national information about GP clinical activity in the future'.

University of Sydney's Director of the Family Medicine Research Centre, Professor Helena Britt, thanked GPs for their participation in the program throughout the years.

'Without their contribution, BEACH would not have existed,' Prof Britt said.

The RACGP will urgently communicate with the Minister for Health requesting an explanation of this unfortunate outcome and will seek a consultation to explain the ramifications.