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.