General Practice: The true frontline in the battle to keep Australians safe and healthy

Henry Bateman

3rd June, 2020

The frontline of healthcare in Australia has always been and continues to be general practice.

The current battle to suppress Coronavirus (COVID-19) was first met by general practitioners, backed up by our pathologists and public health units.

The suppression of COVID-19 is achieved through early identification of the disease, then tracing, testing and isolating all contacts. Australia has the highest rate of diagnostic pathology testing for COVID-19 in the world (1) and most of this is due to the efforts of local GPs. This GP-led work has been supported by the government’s rapid response, in terms of funding and engagement, to help tackle this pandemic.

 

The role of general practice. Always.

Apart from the current health crisis, there are other parallel health ‘battles’ being met by general practice on a daily basis in the areas of chronic disease and prevention.

Australia has one of the lowest death rates in the world and we are living longer. Our improved longevity is thanks to the efforts of GPs on the frontline – detecting illness early with effective screening, preventing outbreaks with effective immunisation, managing complications of chronic disease (mental and physical), and tackling risk early and effectively with ongoing care.

 

More funding, More resourcing

Despite this hard work, there has been a tendency of previous governments to view general practice as a lower priority, which has resulted in chronic underfunding for decades. This was also the case in the recent five-year Medicare rebate freeze.

Immediate action is required to reduce the deepening undersupply of GPs, particularly in outer metropolitan areas, the engine room of Australia’s population growth. According to Deloitte Access Economics, there is projected to be a shortfall of 9,298 full-time GPs by 2030 – the number of new GPs entering the market will not keep pace with increasing demand as healthcare and GP training places continue to be unfilled (2).

The dilution of the role of the GP is not the answer. Pharmacists do not have the training and holistic view of the patient that GPs have to prescribe effectively and safely. Telehealth without the genuine option for a doctor to consult face-to-face will lead to sub-optimal healthcare, not better outcomes for patients. General practice is the cornerstone of Australia’s healthcare system. And yet, for far too long, it has been underfunded, under-resourced and undervalued.

We’re calling for all Governments to recognise the valuable impact general practice has on our entire healthcare system. In the economic fallout and health impacts that are sure to follow the COVID-19 health crisis, we’re urging our leaders to prioritise general practice funding and resourcing. The health of all Australians is at stake.