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Peak body urges government to prop up state of health services in rural and regional Australia

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RAGCP), a peak medical body in Australia, has called on the federal government to boost services provided in regional and rural Australia during a difficult financial climate.

Photo credit: RAGCP official Facebook page

RAGCP Associate Professor Michael Clements appeared on Flow's Country Viewpoint to provide further context to the latest point of advocacy from the peak body.

Clements explained that the World GP Conference, recently held in Sydney, was utilised as a fundamental platform to raise awareness of how a stronger focus on primary care could be the catalyst to solving many issues in remote areas.

"We've just hosted and finished the World GP Conference...we had over 4,000 GPs from across the world to send to Sydney and we discussed all issues relating to primary care, GPs, rural health and everything in between," Clements said.

"The very clear message throughout all of the countries and throughout all of the presentations was that if we get the government to focus on investment into primary care, into general practice, into those long-term relationships between a patient and their GP, that actually we can save money on hospitals.

"We have less heart attacks, less diabetes, less strokes, less burden of mental health disease and we can actually reduce the overall health budget, but what we're calling for is the government to start redistributing money towards primary care and then we know that they're going to save money on the hospital - it's particularly important that this release and the appetite for this is coming out at around this time because we're seeing trips to the GP for a lot of people are becoming quite expensive."

Clements observed that despite the difficulties that have arisen for many urban-based Australians being priced out of appointments with their regular GPs, that the medical landscape in regional and rural Australia is still far more hamstrung.

"We know that our urban populations will often be concerned about having to pay more to see their GP or having to wait a bit longer to see their GP, but that powers in comparison to communities that are out there that have no general practitioner, no primary care service, where they might have to drive for two to four to six hours to actually access that," said Clements.

"We've had closure after closure of rural and remote clinics...the rural and remote have been feeling it worse, what we need is a lot of solutions and each of the solutions will play their part, the bulk building incentives will help - we also need to see local governments enabled to make some local solutions with council support and we also need to cast our net wide and look at our overseas trained doctors as a real source of hope for these communities.

"We know that our rural communities rely on our overseas trained doctors for over 50% of their workforce and so we need to be supporting the transition from other countries into Australia, making sure that they first meet our initial standards that are supported to be trained towards the same standard as every other Australian trained doctor."

On the issue of rural and remote pharmacies feeling the pinch from the government's new 60-day dispensing policy, Clements expressed that there was no blanket solution for how every pharmacy outside of a major city should look to operate.

"It may well be that the 60-day prescribing does affect some practices, so that's up to the pharmacies to work with the government to look at other alternatives to fund," Clements said.

"Yes, we should protect the remote pharmacies and rather than fund them through, I guess, charging patients more through 30-day scripts, perhaps they can look more at the targeted regional rural I think we are absolutely supportive of our remote pharmacies and pharmacists and they've got to work with the government to find out whether the funding model is best placed through script prices to the patients or through other means and grants."


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