Changes to afterhours care require caution

High quality after hours medical services are central to universal health care available under Medicare and moves to change present arrangements need to be developed with caution, the Consumers Health Forum says.

“The Consumers Health Forum is concerned that while the Government may act to reduce increasing expenditure in provision of afterhours medical care, one unwanted result may be a significant drop in availability of doctors to make urgent house calls at night,” Leanne Wells, the CEO of the Consumers Health Forum said.

“The report by the Medicare Benefits Schedule Review has pointed to a very big increase in payments to doctors for “urgent” after hours care and suggested that many such services are “low value care”.

“After hours care medical care presents a dilemma for doctors, the Government and most importantly patients.  Sudden illness does not respect normal working hours and often the most effective afterhours attention is provided by a doctor seeing the patient at home.

“An additional driver of demand for afterhours care is that modern lifestyles and job pressures often mean people can’t get to their GP during the day.

“The issue of afterhours medical care, who provides it and how it is funded has been a cause of ongoing debate and chopping and changing systems for many years. 

“The fact is that the availability of a well-organised afterhours service has in many parts of Australia filled a gap in services not well-provided by existing general practices.

“This is particularly so when it comes to provision of afterhours medical care in aged care facilities where there have often been difficulties in arranging doctors to visit residents.

 “If the system has been rorted, there are mechanisms such as the Professional Services Review to deal with such matters.

“If the current arrangements are to be significantly changed, it will be up to daytime GPs to provide at night the continuity of care that they profess to support.

“CHF supports the MBS review overall.  The review’s work is aiming to ensure that the community can be assured that we are subsidising best value, evidence-based care. 

“While we appreciate there is a need to ensure Medicare is being claimed appropriately we don't want changes to reduce access to afterhours care for those with valid needs,”
 Ms Wells said.


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