Government responds to home doctor visit concerns

NO CUTS: Minister for health Greg Hunt and Capricornia MP Michelle Landry have denied there will be any cuts to home visiting doctor services.
NO CUTS: Minister for health Greg Hunt and Capricornia MP Michelle Landry have denied there will be any cuts to home visiting doctor services. Contributed RCC

THE federal government has denied funding for home visit by GP's would be cut, saying their review would target inefficiencies in the system.

A spokesperson for Minister for Health Greg Hunt challenged National Medical Deputising Service (NAMDS) claims saying there would be no reduction in funding for Medicare as a result of their clinician-led review.

"Expert clinical committees have now provided some of their recommendations on how to improve Medicare and these have been released for public consultation,” the spokesperson said.

"These include recommendations for adding new types of Medicare services, removing old redundant services (some of which have not been reviewed for decades) and changing some existing services to reflect modern medical practice.

"There are also recommendations to help ensure that Australians have access to the best after-hours medical care at home when they need it.”

The spokesperson said the government had an "absolutely rock solid” commitment to after-hours medical access.

"But we also have a commitment to ensuring that every service provided is genuine and that every doctor is up to scratch,” the spokesperson said.

"We are concerned about reports that some doctors are claiming to be providing urgent services when they're not urgent at all.

"The task-force found that the 150% increase in use of urgent after hours services was not driven by clinical need but rather by the emergence of businesses that promote these services.”

The spokesperson said this significant growth has not resulted in a reduction in hospital visits, as was envisaged.

"The task-force also found that many of the services which are claimed as urgent are not truly urgent at all,” they said.

"This mirrors the concerns raised by some medical groups, including the RACGP, that some of these junior doctors and corporate firms are claiming for items which are not genuinely urgent.

"We don't want a situation where corporate giants are simply using the system to make money and take it out of the pockets of GP's in a way that hurts GP's, hurts general practice, and isn't providing quality,” the spokesperson said.

"This builds on our commitment in the Budget of an additional $145.5 million for Primary Healthcare Networks to continue their work giving local communities access to this vital service.”

Capricornia MP Michelle Landry described suggestion that the mobile doctor service would be scaled back as incorrect.

"I feel for Christine as it seems she has been fed some misinformation,” she said.

"Patients needing access to urgent after hours medical care at home will always be supported under Medicare. That will never change and is part of our rock solid commitment to Medicare.”

Ms Landry said in 2016-17, targeted compliance activity in after-hours resulted in over $1.3 million voluntarily repaid by health professionals who acknowledged they had incorrectly billed the urgent after hours items and 16 practitioners were referred to the Professional Services Review to investigate potential inappropriate practice in relation to after-hours services.

"The increase in after-hours services has been driven by the expansion of medical deputising services supported by private equity investors, who invested significant resources in acquiring existing services and advertising directly to patients,” she said.

"It's not about reducing services, but making sure that the system is used by those who truly need it.

"It's important to make absolutely clear - there will be no reduction in funding for Medicare. In fact, funding is at record levels and is increasing every year.”

Ms Landry said they didn't want a situation where corporate giants were simply using the system to make money out of the pockets of GP's in a way that hurts general practice and isn't providing quality.

"More patients in Capricornia are seeing their doctor without having to reach for their wallet with GP bulk billing rates for the 2016-17 financial year increasing to 81.8% compared to 80.5% in 2015-16,” Ms Landry said.

"Nationally this is the highest bulk billing rate for any financial year since the inception of Medicare.”

Topics:  greg hunt medicare michelle landry national medical deputising service nmds primary healthcare networks

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