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11 Apr 2019

BY AMA PRESIDENT DR TONY BARTONE

When I was elected AMA President in May last year, I declared that general practice would be one of my priorities when dealing with the Government. And so it was, and is.

I have spent 10 months, meeting after meeting, phone call after phone call, pushing Health Minister Greg Hunt to share my key priorities, including my passion for general practice. He soon began to understand and acknowledge the vital coordinating role of GPs in the health system.

He also learned that hardworking and dedicated GPs spend a lot of non-face-to-face time providing the possible care and advice for our patients. It is core business for us. We never get paid for it. But we do it. It is all part of quality holistic primary care. It is general practice.

Well, some of this non-face-to-face care will now be funded as part of the almost $1 billion of new investment for general practice announced in the Budget. Greg Hunt listened, learned, and delivered. It will be for patients over 70 who voluntarily nominate with a general practice. We see a lot of these patients. They need constant ongoing care.

It is a good start. It is due recognition of the value of general practice. We know there is more needed for primary care. So does the Minister. And so does the Shadow Health Minister. It is our understanding that Labor will match this funding. If they are elected, we will ensure they do.

The new-found enthusiasm for primary care from all sides of politics is welcome. It is long overdue, but it does represent a turning point. We can build on it.

While the optics on primary care in the Budget were positive, there were areas of disappointment.

The AMA has called on successive and future governments to adopt a long-term approach to health policy. Set the system up for the years ahead when demand will grow and grow. We want our policymakers to have a vision about where health care is headed in this country.

A strong Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) is vital. Minister Hunt has been a PBS champion and there was more funding in the Budget.

There has been some action on aged care, but still a long way to go.

But there was little mention of a prevention agenda. We need planning, programs, promotion, and resources to keep people active and healthy.

The need for significant long-term funding and a better funding formula for public hospitals were not addressed in the Budget.

Mental health needs a total rethink to build the role of general practice in coordinating patient care.

Governments must work together to plan and build the medical and health workforces – and get them working where they are most needed – to meet the growing demand that is with us now and will blow out in coming decades.

And then there is the unfinished business of the MBS Review and the bedding down of the private health reforms. Both these major pieces of work will have a huge impact on our patients and how we deliver care.

All these elements are linked. They work most efficiently when they are properly funded and resourced and complement each other to make the patient journey as smooth as possible.

This is the big picture. This is planning for future need. This is the vision.

We hope to see some visionary health announcements from all sides before the May election.


Published: 11 Apr 2019