House calls: Radio Doctor Illawarra general manager Frank Wallner says proposed changes to the Medicare rebate for GP after-hours home visits could greatly impact the service. Picture: Robert PeetThe Illawarra’s long-running Radio Doctor service is under threat, with the government considering callsto cut Medicare funding for after-hourshouse calls by GPs.
Radio Doctor Illawarra general manager Frank Wallner said he was concerned by moves to restrict rebates for home visits aspart of the Federal Government’sreview of the Medicare Benefits Schedule.
‘’After-hours medical deputising services like ours are concerned about potential changes that could affect our services,’’ Mr Wallner said.
‘’A government review of Medicare item numbers is occurring, as well as a review and tightening up on restrictions relating to overseas trained doctors ability to work after hours.
‘’If cuts to rebates –or our workforce –are realised, then it could have major implications for our service.’’
Mr Wallner said he supported aNational Association for Medical Deputising Services campaign to protect home visits. In its submission to the review, the association argued that the rise of after-hours GPs had eased the pressure on hospital emergency departments.
‘’We can avoid unnecessary visits to EDs by seeing people with less serious illnesses in their own home,’’ Mr Wallner said.
‘’In the Illawarra we have around 300 member doctors who make just under 20,000 home visits per year.
‘’Around 20 per cent of the people we see are elderly, while we also get a large proportion of calls fromparents of young children and people with disabilities.
‘’Without our servicemany of these people would end up in our local EDs.’’
The push for change is coming fromthe Royal Australian College of GPs. The college argues patients should only be able to access after-hours services through their family GP, and that only patients requiring ‘urgent care’ should be seen.
‘’The RACGP consulted with members earlier in the year around concerns raised with regards to after-hours care and the dramatic rise in the use of after-hours item numbers,’’ a spokesperson said.
‘’Many issues of concern were identified by practicing GPs, especially around quality clinical assessment and continuity of care, as the patients’ normal treating doctor often receives variable and limited information about their patients’ after-hours visit.’’
However Mr Wallner said the not-for-profit co-operative –established in 1974 –worked for its member GPs, not in competition with them. ‘’It’s about ensuringcontinuity of care when our doctors are not available –at night, on weekends and public holidays,’’ he said.
Mr Wallner urged those who ‘’saw value in after-hours services’’ to visit the Protect Home Visits websiteand write to their local MP.
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