AMA President, Dr Rosanna Capolingua, said today that the latest report on GP activity from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) confirms without doubt that GPs are the lynchpins of quality primary health care in the Australian community.
Conducted by the Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health (BEACH) program, the national survey of 100,000 GP encounters reported that there were more than 100 million items of patient service delivered by Australia's GPs in 2006-07.
Dr Capolingua said the report backs the AMA's recent call for greater Government support for our dedicated and hardworking GP workforce.
"When Australians get sick they want to see their local GP," Dr Capolingua said.
"GPs are uniquely skilled to provide holistic care for patients. "Australians deserve to continue to receive quality health care from General Practice. Instead, we are seeing more and more attempts to promote lesser-trained and lesser-skilled substitutes for GPs.
"We have to put an end to this health policy laziness.
"All Australian governments must commit to providing incentives and better training opportunities to attract more local medical students into General Practice and to keep our ageing GP population in the workforce longer to train the next generation of GPs.
"With the Australian Health Care Agreements (AHCAs) being finalised this year and COAG meetings of all Labor governments, there has been no better opportunity for some time to achieve responsible forward-looking national health solutions.
"This must include united recognition and national support for GPs and the vital role they play in all Australian communities, city and rural, in all States and Territories."
The BEACH report found that:
• 80 per cent of Australians visit a GP at least once a year and spend more time with their GPs than people in many other countries. Australians spend around 83 minutes per year per head of population with a GP, compared to 56 minutes (New Zealand) and 30 minutes (USA),
• GPs are playing a key role in the fight against chronic disease - including high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, and skin and heart conditions - with the number of encounters rising from 46.5 encounters/100 in 1998/99 to 52.1/100 in 2006/07,
• Baby boomers and patients over 75 are needing to spend more time with their GPs, and
• There has been a significant increase in general practice nurse activities being provided in conjunction with the GP consultation - up from 4.2 to 5.7 per 100 encounters. The Government needs to build on this by expanding practice nurse incentives and support GPs to enable practice nurses to take on a wider role 'for and on behalf of' GPs.
Dr Capolingua said the growing demand for chronic disease management and the mixed success of Government initiatives in this area highlight the need for the Government to reform GP consultation items in the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS).
"More needs to be done to reduce the mountain of red tape that is a disincentive to GPs taking up chronic disease management programs," Dr Capolingua said.
"But the MBS reform must involve talking to GPs.
"I have heard GPs lament that the current state of Medicare item numbers means that 'looking after patients is like colour by numbers'
"Patients and their problems do not just fit into Government-designed boxes."
Dr Capolingua said the BEACH data makes a significant contribution to informing health policy and urged the Government to continue funding the program.