Budget is a fizzer for GP

Lynnette Hoffman

writer

Lynnette Hoffman

Managing Editor

Lynnette Hoffman

‘Lost opportunity’ as budget prioritises populism over policy at the expense of general practice…

Any hope that momentum from last year’s budget would lead to further health reform has been dashed, say health advocates and peak bodies.

And general practice in particular seems to have been left out.

“I watched the budget waiting for something, and there was nothing, pretty much nothing, for general practice,” says Professor Karen Price, immediate past president of the RACGP, GP and researcher. She notes that the $300 energy rebate could cover the gap for six to seven GP consults.

“Basically this was a pre-election budget and they were feeding the advocates breadcrumbs. So everyone got a bit and nobody got a lot,” Professor Price said.

“There’s some very low evidence-based initiatives that I think are yet to be proven — and then there’s general practice standing with no shoes on and holes in its pockets with all the evidence and none of the money. And yet we’ve got digital health apps and all sorts of things appearing,” Professor Price said.

Australian Doctors Federation Chair Dr Aniello Iannuzzi was also disappointed.

“Overall it’s a fizzer, it’s really a non-event budget when it comes to health,” he said.

“I think it’s fair to say that the public and the profession were expecting more.”

Key announcements included:

  • $227 million for another 29 Medicare Urgent Care Clinics
  • $318 million for a one-year freeze on the maximum co-payment for a PBS prescription for everyone with a Medicare card and up to a five-year freeze for pensioners and other Commonwealth concession cardholders
  • $361 million for mental health initiatives, including a network of 61 Medicare Mental Health Centres slated to open by mid 2026, and a digital health service for those with more mild mental health concerns. However, the specific Medicare item numbers for the review of a mental health care plan will be removed.
  • $882 million over five years to support older people to have shorter hospital stays and less readmission, via more outreach service and virtual care
  • $90 million over three years to help get overseas-trained doctors into Australia
  • $49 million over four years on Medicare rebates for extended gynaecology consultations for women with complex conditions.

Criticism from the peak bodies includes:

  • Nothing on the Centre for Prevention on Disease Control promised last year
  • No support to train more GPs in Australia
  • No substantial increases to Medicare rebates
  • Minimal funding for public health initiatives focused on promoting healthy lifestyle
  • No increased support for people with chronic health conditions
  • No further funding for MyMedicare
  • Lack of initiatives to support public hospitals and reduce planned surgery waitlists.

Medicare rebates still woefully underfunded

Australian Doctors Federation chair Aniello Iannuzzi said the lack of adequate rebate rise was detrimental to the profession.

“Until they make a serious correction to the rebate lag, nothing’s ever going to improve in general practice,” Dr Iannuzzi said. “They should be at least tripled to have any meaningful effect on GP.”

RACGP president Dr Nicole Higgins agreed. “This Budget says the government isn’t interested in ensuring the subsidies for healthcare for Australians are anywhere close to the real-life costs of providing that care,” she said.

No support to retain existing GPs or train future GPs

Professor Price said the budget prioritised populism over proper policy, particularly when it comes to general practice.

“We’ve also got the early retirement and the leaky mid-pipe, especially for women GPs who do the hard yakka of really complex work, who are thinking of going off somewhere else,” she said. “So there is elasticity there, but we need to preserve those doctors before they’ve gone so long that they don’t want to come back.”

“There really wasn’t much for general practice, despite all the rhetoric. And I think that’s a really missed opportunity because the key indicator for success in general practice will be workforce numbers, and they are falling, and that means the government’s failing,” Professor Price said.

Dr Iannuzzi also noted that while nursing students have received much-needed funding, the same assistance has not been afforded to medical students.

Harsh words from the peak bodies

Both the RACGP and AMA also sharply criticised this year’s budget.

“This budget has dropped the ball for Australians struggling to afford essential healthcare, and it’s a huge disappointment for GPs, practice teams, and our patients. The government took the first step to repair decades of devastating underfunding of Medicare and general practice care last year – now this work will stall,” the RACGP’s Dr Higgins said.

“Australians are already putting off essential care due to rising costs. This Budget won’t help, so out-of-pocket fees will increase. It will mean a sicker nation and more pressure on hospitals, which will cost the government much more,” she continued.

AMA president Dr Steve Robson called it a “lost opportunity” and lambasted the plan to fund more urgent care centres rather than general practice.

“What we need is reform that enables general practice to deliver the primary care that our patients need, not piecemeal announcements and changes that further fragment the system,” he said.

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Lynnette Hoffman

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Lynnette Hoffman

Managing Editor

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