Big move to fix health crisis

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NSW residents could get access to more bulk billing GPs after Dominic Perrottet announced he will be joining forces with the Victorian Premier to overhaul the Medicare system.

The proposed reform would provide greater access to bulk-billing GPs and urgent care services, which would in turn take the pressure off hospital emergency departments.

Speaking to media on Thursday morning, Mr Perrottet said a lack of Medicare-subsidised GPs meant patients were filling emergency rooms with non-urgent conditions.

“We have a system where many people can’t get into a GP and have Category 4, Category 5 issues and present at a public health emergency department and end up waiting for hours,” he said.

This covers semi-urgent cases (Category 4) like broken bones, and non-urgent issues (Category 5) like coughs and colds.

Currently, Medicare subsides $39.75 for a standard, bulk-billed 20-minute appointment. This means if GPs charge more than $39.75 for a consult or don’t bulk bill, the patient will need to cover the remainder of the cost out-of-pocket.

However, the number of bulk-billing GPs are dropping. December 2022 figures saw fully-subsidised GP visits decrease from 87 per cent to 83.4 per cent between July and September in 2022.

Premier Dominic Perrottet said a lack of bulk-billing GPs had led to an increase in patients going to emergency departments. Picture NCA NewsWire/ Gaye GerardPremier Dominic Perrottet said a lack of bulk-billing GPs had led to an increase in patients going to emergency departments. Picture NCA NewsWire/ Gaye Gerard

“We have a real opportunity right now coming out of a 100 to 150 year pandemic to reform the health system,” he added.

“We have a moment in time over the course of this year, to work together – Premiers, the Prime Minister and Health Ministers – to fix the national health system to get greater access so people can see their GP and make sure we have a public health system that works alongside the primary care network, not against it.”

This comes as the NSW and Victorian government announced in August 2022 that they will be opening 25 free urgent care clinics in each state to cover the gap left by bulk billing GPs.

The clinics are designed for patients who require medical care within two to 12 hours, that doesn’t require attention from a hospital emergency department.

Mr Perrottet said that should his government win the upcoming March election, Medicare reform will be a “key priority”.

Mr Perrottet said reforming Medicare was a top priority for his government. Picture: iStock.Mr Perrottet said reforming Medicare was a top priority for his government. Picture: iStock.

However, Shadow Health Minister Ryan Park said that while he backed more funding from federal government into the hospital system, he accused the state coalition of neglecting the healthcare system, citing record wait times for ambulances, elective surgeries and emergency departments.

“That’s under this government after a decade of under resourcing and understaffing our state’s hospital systems,” said Mr Park.

“I want to make this very, very clear today. I won’t be waiting 12 years to begin engaging with the Commonwealth about important health reform, and I won’t be waiting 12 years to admit that we’ve got a problem in our hospitals.”

Shadow Minister for Health Ryan Park accused the Liberal National government had neglected NSW’s health system during their 12-year run in power. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ Simon Bullard.Shadow Minister for Health Ryan Park accused the Liberal National government had neglected NSW’s health system during their 12-year run in power. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ Simon Bullard.

Mr Park added that he had written to the Commonwealth government in 2022 to petition an extension of the pandemic-related 50-50 health funding between state and federal government.

Ending on December 31, 2022, the divide returned to a 55 to 45 split at the start of 2023.

Moving forward, the Shadow Health Minister called for reform for hospital shift staffing, and more healthcare staff, in particular a push for 500 extra paramedics in regional areas.

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