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Byron Shire
March 3, 2024

Home visit doctors next on the chopping block?

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Doctors performing home visits could be the next casualties of a government looking to find savings in the health budget, putting even more pressure on the region’s overstretched emergency departments.

Services at Ballina, Byron Bay, Tweed Heads and Lismore could be among the first to close, according to the National Association for Medical Deputising Services (NAMDS), as their viability is heavily dependent on Medicare funding.

The government has instigated a review of the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), which is intended to find savings in the system.

NAMDS President, Dr Spiro Doukakis said home visits had been a ‘hugely successful health policy’, enabling emergency doctors and GPs to treat patients in their home ‘at lower cost for urgent issues that don’t require emergency care’.

But he added the government had ‘refused to even guarantee public consultation on the MBS Review, leaving doctors and patients fearing that the service is on the chopping block.’

Any such cut would place a further burden to the region’s already overloaded emergency departments.

On New Year’s Day, Echonetdaily reader Maralyn Sweeney was told she would have a six-hour wait to see a doctor with an eye infection at Ballina Hospital.

Ms Sweeney said she eventually left the hospital without seeing a doctor after ringing the out-of-hours Doctors on Duty service. She said a doctor from the service came to her home within around three hours of calling.

Dr Doukakis said any cut to the service would amount to the government breaking its promise not to cut Medicare.

‘Doctor home visits are an essential Medicare service which is relied on by 2 million Australian families – especially carers of people with disabilities, the elderly and young children.’

A poll released today shows:

  • 74 per cent would regard changes that reduced the availability of bulk billed after hours home doctors, as a ‘violation of Malcolm Turnbull’s pledge not to make cuts to Medicare’
  • 79 per cent see it as a very important or extremely important part of the Medicare system.
  • 87 per cent say that keeping his promise on Medicare should be a higher priority than company tax cuts.

Dr Doukakis said cuts to the service would be despite the fact home visits have delivered huge savings to the health system by reducing emergency department presentations – which is the point of the service.

‘Since 2005, the proportion of unnecessary emergency department visits (urgent GP-type presentations) has reduced from 54 per cent to 47 per cent,’ he said.

‘Whereas the growth in emergency department presentations for genuine emergency issues has grown by an average 26 per cent over the past five years, growth in non-emergencies has basically stopped at three per cent off a base of 19 per cent prior to 2011.

‘This is good health policy which is doing its job of easy pressure on hospitals – it should be celebrated.’

The savings to the health system were calculated by Deloitte Access Economics at $724 million (net savings) over four years.

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  1. A couple of points wider reading on the issue reveal:

    “One suggestion is that the government will move to truncate the service by requiring that all visits be conducted by a GP – rather than a trainee emergency doctor, as happens at present.”

    “ . . . concerns that the service has allowed too many call-outs to be classified as “emergency” visits, triggering a much higher MBS payment than doctors would receive from the standard attendance fee.”

    “ . . . the review currently being led by former Australian Medical Association boss Steve Hambleton, is likely to recommend changes to the program amid concerns within the government that the scheme is being “rorted”.”

    “The advice from the AMA and the RACGP is that some of these junior doctors and corporate firms are claiming for items which are not genuinely urgent.”

    It would seem that, as with many government schemes, there is a degree of rorting going on, and given it is the public’s money involved, certainly the tightening up of any loop-holes is a good thing, especially if it limits the apparent “I’m a bit crook and couldn’t be bothered waiting in a queue at a medical facility so I’ll call in a home doctor visit, and the people concerned will classify my condition as an emergency, charge Medicare an absolute bomb and everybody is happy (except, as usual, the long-suffering tax payer).

  2. There is no way at all that Treasurer Scott Morrison will cut these essential Medicare Services. And I confidently say this because his Prime Minister said they would never ever cut Medicare.

    And I am just as confident that local National Party MP Kevin Hogan will work diligently to make sure this never happens because we all know how hard he works to support regional Australia. Like he has been on penalty rate cuts for low paid workers. And on the restarting of CSG mining on the Northern Rivers.

    By the way, has anyone seen Kev since the last election in 2017? Cause I cant find him standing up for us on any issue let alone these!

  3. Peharps if goverments want cut cost on medical expenses, the best awy is to invest on health, by regulating the food industry – less sugar, less pesticides, less preservatives. If our rivers are clean and our soil is health, no many people will get sick. I very rare need any medical treatment and my medicine is organic food.

  4. The government are a bunch of asses , the hospitals are understaffed as it is and full so you want to make it worse by stopping the after hours drsike wake up ya fools

  5. We have used the home Doctor many times Waiting time at Emergency an the Bundaberg Base Hospital can be hours and if you have a very sick child it is ridiculous If you are not bleeding all over the floor or have a badly broken bone or having a heart attack you wait and wait and wait

  6. Get big corporations to pay their share of tax and you will find the solution to your money mismanagement problems our dishonourable governments !!!!
    This service is an essential service for our people who pay tax, have worked hard and paid tax, to have even more ripped off in their retirement, and to the people who have the children who will later work and pay tax, so that you fat cats can constantly cut services and put our lives and health at risk, whilst you sit there in a private hospitals eating caviar!!
    Leave this service for the people who need it, otherwise you will have ED’s exploding and imploding.
    You keep hitting the people who are drowning, trying to keep their heads above water, whilst you keep handing your wealthy buddies what you have stolen from the low to average person.
    Shame on you!
    Time for a revolution in this country.

  7. Omg
    For the people my ass.
    All the government cars about is lining their own pocket.
    Rich get richer
    The poor get poorer
    That what the Australian people have created by not standing up for our rights.
    This home doctors was the best thing to come to Australia.
    I personally have never used them, I know people that have and that was one less in the ER for something as simple as vomiting.
    Wake up it is necessary.

  8. Why get rid of something that the everyday person needs !!! I have a young baby and was Car less for a week due to repairs which were not my fault leaving myself stranded whilst dealing with an oncoming bladder infection unable to seek treatment …. Called home doctors and was seen within hours of a phone call and being treated in my own home before things overnight got worse, with out this service I would have been very ill unable to care for my child and seek medical help ! We need this service without a doubt


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