Budget threatens GP programs in aged care

The decision to end the aged care GP Panels Initiative has cut some programs in their tracks and created a lot of uncertainty.

The Federal Government’s budget decision to discontinue funding for the Aged Care GP Panels Initiative is causing confusion for providers and doctors alike.

In place of the Panels Initiative, the Government will introduce a new Aged Care Access Initiative from 1 July, but Australian Ageing Agenda understands the program guidelines will not be finalised until mid-June.

The new program will be composed of two separate streams for GPs and allied health professionals.

The GP stream will involve an incentive payment to be administered through Medicare Australia.

The allied health system will consist of a payment for clinical services not covered by Medicare, and will be provided by the Divisions of General Practice.

In the meantime, Divisions who not have used up existing allocated funding will be permitted to carryover funds beyond June.

But those programs with no funds left over have been left in the lurch.

The Northern Division of General Practice in Adelaide had to postpone the launch of a planned initiative to improve GP liaison with aged care facilities in the region.

The Division’s Aged Care Project Officer, Amy Paul said there was a lot of uncertainty about future funding.

“We can’t really do any future planning if it looks like there will be no future funding,” she said,

“It seems at this stage that the Divisions are not going to be able to support GPs in aged care facilities.”

Ms Paul said the Panels Initiative had enabled many Divisions to improve GP access to aged care for over three years.

“Before that they were very reactive and randomly responded when they were called but now they have started setting up clinic times in aged care facilities.”

But the Australian Medical Association (AMA) dismissed the disbanded Panels Initiative as ineffective.

The Chair of the AMA’s Committee on the Care of Older People, Dr Peter Ford said the initiative had done little to reduce the barriers GPs face in accessing aged care residents.

“The Panels initiative has had limited success and will never have a significant impact on increasing the number of GP visits to residential aged care facilities due to a number of restraints,” he said.

These include issues ranging from insufficient parking spaces and a lack of compatible IT infrastructure in aged care homes to inadequate Medicare Benefits Schedule rebates.

“Ideally, the funds should be directed to towards improved patient rebates that acknowledge the significant amount of non face-to-face time involved in the provision of care, and which would allow for some work to be carried out by general practice nurses,” said Dr Ford.

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