RACGP calls for focus on patient safety in after-hours debate

14 March, 2017

The RACGP has again voiced concerns over the significant increase in urgent after-hours visits in recent years, saying patient safety may be put at risk if these services do not employ suitably qualified medical practitioners.

Figures released this week by the Department of Health show that these services have continued to increase dramatically in the last year.

RACGP President Dr Bastian Seidel said there was no acceptable explanation for the epidemic proportions of after-hours call outs.

"Urgent after-hours visits attract a premium Medicare rebate. Currently those premium rebates are often being billed by doctors who do not have any postgraduate or specialist qualifications in general practice, at a cost to the taxpayer and Medicare of over $250 million in the last year alone.

"The RACGP is supportive of after-hours medical services, however in the interests of patient safety they absolutely must be offered by suitably qualified doctors.

"The most urgent call outs should not be attended by junior doctors with minimal hospital experience and no postgraduate qualifications whatsoever," he said.

Dr Seidel stressed that patient safety was the number one priority for the RACGP and its 35,000 members.

"As the academic medical college solely responsible for setting the standards for the medical specialty of general practice in Australia, the RACGP has no financial or commercial interests in this matter.

"Patient safety should always come first. The focus must always be on safe, high quality care for our patients.

"The RACGP's priority is keeping our nation healthy and maintaining world class evidence-based care that is not driven by commercial interests," he said.

In 2016 the RACGP asked former Federal Health Minster Sussan Ley to review the after-hours item numbers. The RACGP has since been pleased to see the review accelerated in consultation with Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt since his appointment earlier this year.

For further information about the RACGP positions statement on after-hours home visiting services visit the RACGP website: http://www.racgp.org.au/download/Documents/Policies/Health%20systems/After-hours-position-statement.pdf