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Govt urged to properly fund health reforms

AAP logoAAP 31/07/2016 Belinda Merhab

It's hailed as a turning point for the health system but doctors say it's being stymied by a lack of money from the federal government.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull unveiled Health Care Homes earlier this year to keep Australians with chronic disease out of hospital, labelling it one of the biggest reforms in the history of the health system.

The government is spending $21 million on a trial of the program next year, involving 65,000 patients at 200 medical practices.

But health experts and consumer advocates have teamed up to call for the program to be expanded and accelerated, insisting the existing system is disconnected.

The group, including the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Consumers Health Forum, say the government has provided no details about how the program will be implemented.

Health Care Homes will see those with chronic diseases like diabetes enrol with one GP who would become a one-stop shop, creating tailored care packages for patients and coordinating all of their care.

In a report handed to Health Minister Sussan Ley last week, the group calls for a rethink of how doctors are paid in a way that creates better outcomes for chronically-ill patients.

"The current fee-for-service system encourages high patient volumes but not high quality care or team work with other health professionals," they said on Monday.

"We need to develop new ways of remunerating health practitioners on the basis of the quality and effectiveness of their care."

RACGP president Frank Jones estimates the average practice would need an additional $100,000 a year to properly implement Health Care Homes.

The government isn't investing enough in what he believes is a turning point for the health system, shifting the focus from hospitals to community care.

When patients go to hospital for issues that can be dealt with by a GP, the cost is four-to-six times greater, he says.

"It's not enough money to make sure this trial does prove what we want it to prove," Dr Jones told AAP.

"This is a moment in history for our health system - there's a huge opportunity here to get patients more involved in their care."

But Ms Ley says this is exactly the kind of service doctors have been seeking for years.

"I am very conscious Health Care Homes has the potential to revolutionise the way we care for those with a chronic illness, which is exactly why we are taking a careful approach to get it absolutely right but as smartly as possible," she told AAP.

The minister said the government has budgeted for the program to cost well over $100 million.

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