Call for enhanced after-hours care across Australia

By Our Reporter
Image used for representational purposes only

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is advocating for improved after-hours care to ensure patients across Australia receive the necessary medical attention when required. This appeal follows the College’s submission to the Department of Health and Aged Care’s review of After Hours Primary Care Policies and Programs, which examines the current state of after-hours general practice services and identifies areas for improvement.

In May 2023, the Albanese Government introduced new measures for after-hours care through Primary Health Networks (PHNs) and Healthdirect. However, RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins believes that additional steps are essential to adequately support patients.

“More must be done to help patients get the after-hours care they need,” she stated.

“Funding drives results. By supporting GPs to provide this care, we can expand what we do, and keep more patients out of hospital. By allowing GPs to claim after-hours rebates from 6pm on weeknights and 12pm on Saturdays for services delivered in the practice, we can enable more practices to remain open longer. In my home of Mackay, there was previously an after-hours clinic that provided 24-hour care. However, after the Government made changes to the funding model, it’s now operated by emergency doctors, costs patients three times as much, and closes at 10pm. So, getting the funding model right is vital.”

Dr Higgins emphasised the importance of continuity of care.

“Ensuring the best long-term health outcomes for all patients must be our primary aim,” she said.

“Patients would prefer to see their usual GP and practice team. General practice acts as a central point of care for patients who are accessing care from multiple sources, and this is why we have expressed concern regarding existing after-hours models. Best practice multidisciplinary care teams include GPs working alongside other healthcare professionals to achieve the best possible care.

“It’s vital that GPs and practice teams are included in the design, operation, and evaluation of all after-hours primary care services. These services must be available to all patients, including those living in rural and regional areas, with special consideration given to vulnerable populations, and programs should be tailored to fit the needs of local communities. The RACGP stands ready to work with the Government to make this happen.”

The principles of care highlighted in the College’s position statement, “After hours services in primary healthcare,” underpin this latest submission, underscoring the need for a well-structured and inclusive after-hours care system.

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