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Federal Govt’s next wave of public health reform: strengthening primary care

Dr Stephen Clark (FAIM, FAICD, FIIDM, CCEO)
Group Chief Executive, AGPAL Group of Companies

In acknowledging the value that primary care brings to Australia’s world-class health system, the Minister for Health, the Hon. Greg Hunt, earlier this week (Monday 17 December) announced a significant boost to Federal Government investment in a broad range of primary health care activities.

AGPAL is pleased to note that a significant portion of the total investment will directly support GPs and their role in keeping people healthy, out of secondary care, and in managing patients with chronic conditions.

Importantly, the Health Care Homes trial has been extended for an additional 18 months to June 2021.

This extension will provide the general practices and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services already participating in the trial with further time to implement new flexible models of patient-centred care tailored to the needs of their patients, who have complex and chronic conditions.

In other gains for the primary health sector, the government also announced:

  • GPs will receive a new $55 single callout fee for supporting patients in residential aged care.
  • Access to an after-hours GP will be improved to support services in areas of need through the Primary Health Network plus changes to the Medicare Benefits Scheme (MBS).
  • An increase in investment for medical indemnity insurance scheme for medical and allied health professionals.
  • Rural patients will gain additional access to care through an extension of telehealth.
  • A new range of services under Medicare will provide patients with access to more accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment for a range of conditions.
  • People with eating disorders will be able to access specific services under Medicare.
  • A network of community-based specialised nurses to care for people living with neurological conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, will be trialled—enabling patients to remain in their own homes and communities for as long as possible.
  • An expert advisory group has been established to propose potential new models of patient-centred, innovative and flexible primary care, particularly to address the challenges of chronic and complex conditions and to deliver more co-ordinated care for patients.

AGPAL recognises high-quality primary health care is fundamental to better patient and public-health outcomes; and providing increased support to our primary health care providers is essential to upholding and improving what is already one of the best health systems in the world. We are therefore very pleased to share these announcements with our valued clients.

Summary of budget allocations*

Primary health care activity Million
MBS fees for GPs providing care in aged care facilities 98.0
Primary Health Networks providing tailored after-hours services 146.5
Telehealth for general consultations in rural and remote areas 33.5
Retain urgent after-hours rebate 13.4
Mental health and well-being support for farmers in hardship via telehealth 26.9
GP measures 318.3
Best practice care for patients with eating disorders 110.7
MSAC new and amended MBS listings 58.9
Improve outcomes for Australians with chronic disease 17.5
Neurological Nurse Specialist Pilot Project 5.8
National Mental Health Workforce Strategy 1.0
Total primary care $512.2


*Source: Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, December 2018; announcement published/authorised by the Federal Minister for Health, the Hon. Greg Hunt, 17 December 2018