GPs hit by anti-competitive 'win' for pathology services: RACGP

17 May, 2016

Quality patient care necessitates general practice having appropriate and smooth access to accredited pathology facilities.

However, the Coalition's announcement of a backroom deal to cap rent will create further strain on the ability of general practice to keep their doors open and provide patient services, according to The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) President Dr Frank R Jones.

"The RACGP has always supported universal access to healthcare services and therefore welcomes the announcement of continued bulk-billing arrangements for pathology services," Dr Jones said.

"However, the proposed changes effectively create an anti-competitive environment, where multi-national corporations who make hundreds of millions of profit each year are propped up, while GPs running small businesses lose funding.

"Coming on top of the ongoing Medical Benefits Schedule freeze it's another blow to GPs."

The RACGP position has always been that there is a niche market value for co-located collection centres which are beyond the standard commercial rates. If there was no value in co-locating with a general practice, collection centres would not seek to co-locate.

"What the Government has done is broker a deal to benefit the large pathology companies at the expense of general practices mostly operated as small businesses. It seems to be siding with big business over thousands of small businesses," Dr Jones said.

"These are effectively cuts to the business of general practice. Combined with the freeze, we're going to see more and more practices struggle to keep their doors open to patients. General practice is on the precipice."

Dr Jones said the ongoing financial burden on general practice is becoming untenable and patients will face a contributory fee: patients will defer presentation with the associated personal health impact and the consequent on costs to the health system.

"If the Government implements this policy of looking after big pathology companies, some patients will find their GP forced to close their doors and in that instance patients will not have to worry about a fee because their general practice will no longer be there," Dr Jones said.

Approximately 70% of patients seen in general practice have multiple complex interrelated medical issues. Many patients with complex conditions are frail with increasing loss of independence and mobility. Transport and timely access is a major issue for this cohort of patients.

Pathology co-location with a general practice benefits patients through improved access to diagnostic services. Pathology companies have strongly competed with each other to be in proximity to GP practices, the patients' medical home, where continuity of care is paramount.

"The most efficient and cost-effective part of the health system within Australia is under grave threat and our patients need to know what is happening: this latest development will only accelerate and galvanise the RACGP #Youvebeentargeted campaign," Dr Jones said.