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Keynote address to the Breathing New Life into General Practice Conference, Canberra

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Minister for Health


Keynote Address - Breathing New Life into General Practice Conference Great Hall, Parliament House, Canberra 19 March 2012

I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their Elders, both past and present.

Thank you Aunty Agnes for your Welcome to Country.

I would also like to acknowledge

 my Parliamentary Colleagues who are here today;  Professor Murtagh, the patron of General Practice Registrars Australia (GPRA),  Amit Vohra, GPRA CEO,  Chris Timms, Chair of the General Practice Students Network,  The Going Places Network, and  the representatives of General Practice who are contributing to today’s event.

I would like to congratulate the GPRA, the General Practice Students Network and the Going Places Network for hosting this conference.

I understand that there are now GPSN clubs in the 20 medical schools across Australia, and they are working hard to foster interest in general practice.

The Going Places Network is also doing a fantastic job encouraging pre-vocational doctors to consider general practice as a career choice.

We must not underestimate the importance of good guidance and support in the early stages of one’s professional career.

The work being done by GPRA and the Networks is supporting your profession, your workforce and individual clinicians to be the very best they can be.

Thank you for the opportunity to address the conference today.

I think that the conference theme ‘General Practice in the hot seat’ is very appropriate.

You’re in the hot seat because you - in a very real sense - are at the centre of the action when it comes to primary health care reform.

Primary health care reform in Australia simply will not happen without you.

I believe that we - that is the Australian Government and General Practice - share the same objectives for National Health Reform.

We both want the best quality health care delivered to Australians when and where they need it.

We both want to build the capacity of the health workforce and system.

And we want reforms to be sustainable - real, lasting improvements that make a practical, on-the-ground difference to people’s health and wellbeing.

None of these things can happen in any meaningful way without GPs. We know that doctors are the essential lifeblood of the health system.

Primary care is the part of the health system which Australians use the most - and it’s crucial in ensuring that individuals and communities get the health care they need, when and where they need it.

The Government is committed to more convenient access to primary care - including after hours care.

We also want to support GPs and primary care professionals to work in multi-disciplinary teams that make the best use of specialist skills at each point of the health care continuum.

And we want to improve the quality and convenience of care through ehealth and telehealth initiatives.

The after hours GP helpline is an example of a very successful general practice initiative - recently notching up one hundred thousand callers since its introduction seven months ago.

By being able to speak with a GP after hours, two out of three callers are receiving the care they need over the phone without having to wait for a face-to-face consultation.

They’re getting the medical advice they need, when they need it - including at night, on weekends and public holidays.

For certain groups in the community - parents with young children being an example I am most familiar with - the after hours service has been a godsend.

The Government’s investment in GP Super Clinics and primary health care infrastructure is helping GPs and other professionals to work more effectively together in a single location.

Medicare Locals will also help primary care providers to work together more effectively. Building on the work of the Divisions of General Practice, they will bring together GPs, allied health professionals and consumers to identify needs of local communities and ways to address local issues.

This means more convenience for patients, improved facilities, and enhanced training for the next generation of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals.

eHealth is another important area with great potential to improve the convenience and quality of care for patients. It is also an area where the Government is keen for GPs to take a lead role.

I am pleased to see that ehealth will be a feature of discussions today, lead by Dr Mukesh Haikerwal.

Dr Haikerwal is the National Clinical Lead with the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA). His role is an important one in the future delivery of eHealth for Australia.

From July this year, the Australian Government will start to roll out the personally controlled electronic health record - the eHealth records system.

Over time the system will join the dots electronically between GPs, pharmacists, specialists, allied health professionals, hospitals and patients.

eHealth records will mean easier and faster access to patient information. GPs will spend more time delivering services and talking to patients rather than chasing patient records.

Of course, online health care is already happening. Telehealth is being supported by the Government in many locations as a cost effective and convenient online alternative to traditional face-to-face medical care - and it’s proving popular with patients.

Take for example an older patient in a non-metropolitan area who requires post-operative monitoring - the potential for telehealth to transform their delivery of care is enormous.

From mid last year, Medicare rebates have been available to patients receiving telehealth services in non-metropolitan and outer-metropolitan areas, in residential aged care facilities and Aboriginal Medical Services.

GPs are able to be actively involved in telehealth service delivery with rebates available for GPs at the patient end of a specialist telehealth consultation.

And we’re looking for ways to get GPs even more involved in telehealth service delivery, by investing over $20 million in an NBN Enabled Telehealth Pilots Program.

This program will fund innovative projects that can demonstrate the benefits of telehealth service delivery in the home.

It will focus on aged care, cancer care and palliative care services in areas where the National Broadband Network has been rolled out.

All aspects of National Health Reform need to be underpinned by one other important area of reform - workforce.

And by workforce I am most particularly referring to the lifeblood and backbone of the health system - our doctors and nurses.

The Government is committed to training more GPs to better equip our health workforce for the future.

We are investing $1.8 billion in training more GPs and medical specialists, and providing better support to nurses and allied health professionals.

The Government has committed over $600 million to train a record number of doctors - to tackle shortages and expand workforce capacity.

Over the next ten years we will deliver an additional 5,500 new or training GPs, 680 medical specialists, and 5,400 training places.

The Government is also investing $390 million to support nurses in general practices. This will mean that practices are able to employ nurses to the full scope of their ability, and as an integral part of the team managing patient care.

I want to acknowledge the part that General Practice Registrars Australia is playing in this work.

GPRA has an important role in bringing about improvements in the management and delivery of GP training by representing your interests. The Australian Government continues to provide financial support to GPRA in recognition of the importance of this work.

I’m very pleased to be able to say that more doctors and medical graduates are training to be GPs than ever before.

All the funded training places available this year have been filled - which is a record takeup. The Government is delivering on its commitment to expand General Practice Training to provide 1,200 places a year by 2014 - more than doubling the number of training places available in 2008.

General Practice Education and Training Limited (GPET) and the 17 regional training providers have the important job of implementing the expansion in general practice training places.

GPET is exploring innovations to support the growth in demand for GP vocational training. I’m encouraged to see that you will be discussing ‘innovation in general practice’ in the sessions later in the day.

I cannot talk about health workforce reforms without raising the initiatives we have in place to encourage GPs to live and work in rural and remote areas.

The AGPT program requires that 50 per cent of all training must be in regional and rural areas. This is very important, because we know that doctors who train in rural and regional areas are more likely to continue working in these areas when their training finishes.

Working in rural and regional areas is also supported by the General Practice Rural

Incentives Program which provides retention payments of up to $47,000 annually to eligible GP Registrars.

What all of this adds up to is more doctors for the bush - which is good news for Australia.

The Government is also expanding the prevocational General Practice Placements Program from around 400 places in 2010 to 975 from this year onwards.

This is a $150 million commitment to encourage junior doctors to take up general practice as a career and experience working in outer metropolitan and regional areas through supervised placements before they become fully fledged doctors.

With all of these initiatives in play, I hope it is clear just how much this Government values the role of GPs in the Australian health system.

The Government wants to ensure Australians can get quality health care, when and where they need it.

That is our commitment - and I look forward to working with you - today’s and tomorrow’s GPs - to deliver on it.

Thank you.

For more information, please contact the minister’s office on 02 62777 7220