GPs are the key to ACT health recovery

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“The next ACT government must become more strategic with health funding. Investment must be based on getting the best bang for every valuable health dollar,” says Dr ANTONIO Di DIO, president, Australian Medical Association (ACT). 

GOOD health policy benefits all Canberrans. Good health policy saves lives. From birth right through childhood to adolescence to adulthood to aged care and palliative care, every family in the ACT has regular interaction with the health system.

Dr Antonio Di Dio.

Health is without doubt the best and most important investment that governments can make. Keeping people well and out of expensive hospital care is vital. 

Strong and decisive public health action has seen the ACT at the forefront nationally in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis has seen health policy and economic policy interlinked like never before. Keeping covid at bay and maintaining strict physical distancing has allowed Canberrans to enjoy a lifestyle envied by the rest of Australia, as more businesses and services have been allowed to operate and economic activity has increased.

However, we must remain vigilant to keep these hard-won economic gains and achieve further lifting of restrictions.

Whoever becomes Chief Minister this weekend has a unique opportunity to build on our success in responding to the pandemic with a post-election platform built on strong and inclusive health policies.

Whether it be navigating the economic fallout from the current pandemic or preparing for the possibility of a second wave or dealing with the systemic problems we’ve known about for a long time, it won’t be easy.

We need a new and consultative approach to the way we do things in our city. Covid  has shown that, if we work together, it’s possible to improve the way we respond and bring our community closer together. 

Governments can – and should – take citizens into their confidence and explain the challenges we’re facing. They should also listen to and take the advice of experts – that is how we got on top of COVID-19.

There are significant challenges in health. 

Despite the challenges, ACT patients receive excellent care, be that in our hospitals or from our GPs or the many other dedicated healthcare workers. But the big issue for patients is getting access to the right care at the right time in the right place.

Our public healthcare system – and the complex way it interacts with private providers, community services and, most importantly, our patients and their families – must be better supported and funded. 

The latest AMA Public Hospital Report Card shows that both emergency department and elective surgery waiting times in the ACT are significantly worse than the national average – and have been for some time.

For the five years up to the end of the 2018 financial year, ACT government public hospital funding declined by an average of 2.8 per year in real terms. We can and must do better.

Providing health care in the ACT is more expensive than most other parts of the country. We are a small territory with limited scale, we look after large numbers of cross-border patients, we lack proper co-ordination between our public hospitals, and we also struggle to recruit and retain key health workers.

The next ACT government must become more strategic with health funding. Investment must be based on getting the best bang for every valuable health dollar.

General practice is the best value for money for health investment. Patients get a highly skilled and trained health professional who is with them throughout life. GPs provide holistic care, they are trusted confidants for patients for health issues across the spectrum, and they help patients navigate their way through the health system to receive the most appropriate care for their condition – from maternity to surgery to mental health to allied health and other specialised medical care.

GPs provide quality public health advice – immunisation, diet, exercise, and more – to keep people well and out of hospital.

Patient-focused, GP-led integrated care delivers the best health outcomes. More nurse-led walk-in centres are not the answer and they are not the smartest health investment.

The AMA wants the next ACT government to improve access to our health system across the board, but especially to general practice. We must make it easier for Canberrans to see a GP, and we must ensure that GPs and allied health workers can better integrate the care they deliver together with our public hospitals.

AMA ACT has previously proposed a targeted subsidy scheme aimed at the most vulnerable Canberrans to help them get in to see a GP for up to 10 visits a year. Patients would be referred via the existing walk-in centres or other community services or NGOs. I want to further discuss this concept with the next chief minister. 

There must also be a renewed push to improve the mental health of all Canberrans. COVID-19 has brought this health priority into very sharp focus. GPs and community services have a major role to play. But workforce issues remain a concern. Canberra must overcome difficulties in recruiting mental health professionals.

Post-COVID Canberra will provide the next chief minister and the government with many challenges and opportunities. Investing in health will make things easier. Listen to the community. And listen to the experts, including the AMA. We are here to help.

is the president, Australian Medical Association (ACT).

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  1. Elective surgery delays are only part of the problem when it can take up to four years to see the specialist, which is not counted in the elective surgery delays,

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