Don’t change after-hours doctors system, say local GPs

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Barwon Medicare Local CEO Jason Trethowan.

By NOEL MURPHY

FINDING a doctor after hours could become tougher in Geelong if the Australian Medical Association has its way, say local GPs.
Barwon Medicare Local has told a Federal Government review the after-hours doctors system operating across Geelong has boosted doctor visits from patients who might otherwise have gone to emergency department seeking treatment.
The AMA has told the review it wants a return to a previous system – called the Practice Incentive Program (PIP) – labelling the shift by the previous government of after-hours funding to Medicare Local a “big mistake”.
“It created a clumsy new layer of bureaucracy with Medicare Locals responsible for channelling the funding to after hours service providers,” AMA president Associate Professor Brian Owler said.
“Many Medicare Locals failed to work with general practice to support high quality and accessible after hours services for patients. There was increased red tape and compliance costs for general practices, and there is no evidence of greater efficiencies.”
However, Barwon ML has argued in its review submission the PIP model did “not adequately support or require general practice to provide “accessible, extended opening” after hours.
“The current level of funding does not really reflect the ongoing operating costs for general practice to provide extended opening hours, such as nursing and reception support,” it stated.
“After-hours GP service in the Barwon region acknowledges that different models were needed across Geelong and district. These were shaped according to factors such as socio-economic status, availability of GPs, demand and medical deputising services.”
Barwon ML chief Jason Trethowan told the Independent the AMA appeared to view Medicare Local as a “bureaucracy not in touch with GPs”.
“But we absolutely are in this region,” he said.
“To suggest we undo the last two to three years of consultations between GPs and hospitals and patients to get a fairer system would be lot wasted money. We now have more services and a lot more transparency.”
Barwon ML’s submission said patient presentations in primary care after hours increased over the past 12 months with 162,956 consultations provided.
“These essentially may have otherwise presented to an emergency department,” it stated.
The role of the GP and general practice in after-hours medical services was “extremely important” and played a “central role” in providing accessible, effective care and cutting the burden on EDs.
“Barwon Medicare Local feels that at a regional level our model is working well and providing access to effective primary care services in all areas of our region,” Mr Trethowan said.
He stressed Barwon Medicare Local did not have issues with the AMA but said it was “fairly powerful” in influencing government and did not want the Federal Government to think its submission was representative of how after-hours services work in Geelong.

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