Urgent care clinic funding a ‘missed opportunity’

One of Australia’s leading medical peak bodies has labeled the multi-million dollar boost in the federal budget to urgent care clinics as a “missed opportunity” for other health funding.

Health Minister Mark Butler has unveiled a $227 million package as part of Tuesday’s federal budget that will see an extra 29 urgent care clinics established.

The clinics are designed for patients wanting walk-in treatment for injuries or illnesses in order to take pressure off busy hospital emergency departments.

The budget funding boost means the number of urgent care clinics will rise from 58 to 87. (Richard Wainwright/AAP PHOTOS)

The announcement of the urgent care clinics is part of an $8.5 billion health investment spent in the budget.

But the Royal Australian College of GPs says prioritizing urgent care clinics is wrong.

The college’s president Nicole Higgins says the clinicians will make a difference but won’t go far enough to address the needs of all patients.

“The government has chosen to continue its misguided policy of rolling out what it calls urgent care clinics,” she said.

“Urgent care clinicians take years to roll out, create confusion for the public and disrupt the care people usually receive from their regular GP,” Dr Higgins said.

Nicole Higgins, president of the peak body for GPsNicole Higgins, president of the peak body for GPs
Dr Nicole Higgins says the clinicians disrupt the care people usually receive from their regular GP. (Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS)

“These clinics are also likely to redirect limited general practice workforce capacity away from regular clinics where they are needed most.”

Medical groups have previously urged the government for greater incentives for junior doctors to go into general practice.

While the number of doctors is on the rise, there is a growing shortage of GPs, particularly in regional areas.

Dr Higgins said there were key areas for the health sector that had not been adequately addressed in the government’s budget health spend.

“Chronic illness and mental health concerns are among the top three reasons people seek care from their GP,” she said.

“The fact these measures don’t seem to be included in the government’s $8.5 billion health budget shows the government has the wrong priorities for fixing our health system.

“This looks like a missed opportunity.”

Mr Butler said the urgent care clinics had delivered benefits to patients across the health system.

“Medicare urgent care clinics are already fulfilling their promise by making sure Australians can walk in and receive urgent care quickly and for free,” he said.

Health Minister Mark ButlerHealth Minister Mark Butler
Mark Butler says the clinics help patients need urgent care and take pressure off hospital EDs. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

“Medicare urgent are clinics are making a different, for patients and for busy hospital emergency departments.”

The funding boost means the number of urgent care clinics will rise from 58 to 87.

The budget will also contain funding for urgent care clinics located in regional and remote areas.

Since opening, more than 400,000 visits have been made to the clinics, with almost one-third of them being for children under 15.

However, Tasmanian Health Minister Guy Barnett said the funding for additional urgent care clinics was inadequate.

Tasmania could receive as little as one clinic in the funding round due to the allocation, he said.

“This is completely insufficient to meet the challenges of increasing demand on our healthcare system, noting federal Labor’s underfunding of GPs,” he said.

“This has been driving more people to our hospital emergency departments and has repeatedly forced the state to step in and shore up GP availability as practices come under threat of closure.”

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