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Aged care residents will have increased access to their doctor through GP incentive

Older Australians in residential aged care will have better access to General Practitioners (GPs) thanks to a recent investment of $42.8 million to improve their face-to-face contact with health professionals.

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This funding initiative will encourage more GPs to enter aged care and visit their elderly clients. [Source: Shutterstock]

The Australian Government wants to improve older residents' access to health care by facilitating more access with their doctors, which will overall strengthen the health and wellbeing of residents in nursing homes.

This initiative will provide incentives to GPs to continue seeing patients who live in aged care facilities through visits inside the nursing homes.

This funding announcement follows the May Budget commitment by the Government, which put $365.7 million towards improving access to primary care for senior Australians, under Pillar 3 of the response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, says the funding will provide an additional 120,000 GP services to older Australians who live in aged care homes.

"It is part of our $17.7 billion response to the Aged Care Royal Commission. We recognise the importance of improving health care for people in residential aged care and this is essential in ensuring senior Australians are treated with respect, care and dignity," explains Minister Hunt.

Currently, changes are being made to introduce additional payment tiers under the Practice Incentives Program (PIP) GP Aged Care Access Incentive.

The first payments of this GP incentive are expected in the November 2021 quarter for services from 1 July 2021. 

This incentive effectively doubles how much a GP can receive over the year for undertaking aged care visits to $10,000.

Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck, says the Government wants to improve residential care services through other avenues, like increasing contact with quality frontline care.

"Senior Australians living in aged care facilities will also benefit by not having to travel to appointments," says Minister Colbeck.

"The Government is committed to supporting the delivery of high quality and safe residential aged care including regular access to GPs who can monitor and manage health and wellbeing."

The incentive will potentially reduce the need for hospital transfers of aged care residents who fall ill, which was identified as an issue at Aged Care Royal Commission hearings last year.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) called for the initiative back in April after a study of their members found there were barriers to delivering care to residents in their nursing homes which was deterring doctors from going into aged care facilities.

Some of the issues doctors were coming across included incompatible IT systems, lack of nursing staff to take them to patients and help with clinical handovers, no clinically appropriate private examination rooms, poor parking access and issues with swipe cards and access codes, and lack of financial support for visits.

The AMA said these issues were preventing doctors from being able to deliver quality care to older residents in aged care.

President of the AMA, Dr Omar Khorshid, said back in April that AMA members were intending to reduce their nursing home visits or even cease them altogether because of the issues they faced, which was not ideal for older people who need medical care in their aged care home.

"Instead we should be attracting more doctors into aged care by supporting them to take the time away from their busy practices and visit patients in nursing homes. That way GPs can continue their relationships with their elderly patients who move into aged care," says Dr Khorshid.

"Most GPs bulk bill their patients in aged care, but they themselves are out of pocket as a result as the current Medicare rebate is woefully inadequate to cover the time spent in nursing homes with patients and what we call ‘non-contact time’ - the time spent on a patient’s care outside of their consultation."

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