How will state and federal funding announcements for new GP-led urgent care clinics affect the North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network (NWMPHN) region?
What has been announced?
On 21 August 2022 the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, announced 5 new GP-led ‘Priority Primary Care Centres’ (PPCCs). On 30 August 2022 he announced a further 20 PPCCs. Primary health networks (PHNs) are commissioning these clinics in partnership with the Victorian Department of Health.
In April 2022, in the lead-up to the federal election, the Australian Labor Party announced 50 new ‘Medicare Urgent Care Clinics’. The Australian Government is yet to confirm the contract process for these. NWMPHN will provide more information as soon as possible.
About the state-funded PPCCs
The PPCCs will be open 7 days a week for up to 16 hours a day. They will handle conditions such as mild infections, fractures and burns, and offer pathology and imaging services on site. Patients will be able to access care at a PPCC with or without a Medicare card.
At the time of publishing, we know that at least 3 of the PPCCs will be in the NWMPHN region – close to the Royal Melbourne Hospital, Sunshine Hospital and Werribee Mercy Hospital. Exact locations will be announced soon.
NWMPHN is commissioning providers to establish these clinics, and deliver services for 15 months. Names will be revealed as soon as the process is complete.
We look forward to working with the providers to:
- establish PPCCs that complement existing general practices without increasing workforce shortages
- provide care to patients who need it quickly but who do not need to present to emergency departments
- offer more options to patients in after-hours periods
- prove that investment in general practice makes economic sense and leads to improved patient outcomes.
Note for general practices: NWMPHN performed an advance notice process earlier this year on behalf of the Victorian Department of Health to establish a shortlist of potential PPCC providers. However, when this process occurred, only the clinics close to the Royal Melbourne Hospital and Sunshine Hospital had been announced. More information on the additional ones will be provided as soon as it is available.
Further investment and reform are needed
NWMPHN welcomes the state and federally funded clinics, which will take pressure off hospital emergency departments and some general practices, including those which are experiencing staff shortages, burnout and rising costs. However, we also recognise that system-wide investment and policy change are sorely needed.
It is the responsibility of the Australian Government to implement the reform required to ensure a sustainable health system with a strong primary care foundation. However, it must work with state and territory governments to ensure reforms are delivered in an integrated way.
The Victorian Government’s investment in PPCCs, and in GP respiratory clinics (which PHNs also commission), are welcome additions in a sector that is in urgent need of repair. Through its robust commissioning process, NWMPHN aims to ensure the clinics in its region equitably support patients and the primary care sector without contributing to fragmentation of care.
Should the new clinics prove successful, we will advocate for the projects to be sustainably expanded.
The role of PHNs in primary care reform and advocacy
PHNs are well placed to inform and support necessary primary care reform, increasing the likelihood of its success. They enable coordinated access to community and frontline health professionals, identify population health needs and drive innovative solutions at a local level.
NWMPHN’s local priorities and advocacy are informed by its General Practice Expert Advisory Group, Clinical and Community Councils, and other stakeholder groups. Insights from these groups are regularly presented to the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care, the Victorian Department of Health, and to members of parliament in local or more distant electorates.
At a national level, Australia’s 31 PHNs are united in collective action and are represented, along with key peak and professional bodies, on the Australian Government’s Strengthening Medicare Taskforce.
In addition, in response to the Department of Health and Aged Care’s Australia’s Primary Health Care 10 Year Plan 2022–32, published in March this year, the PHNs organised a ‘summit meeting’ in Canberra in May.
Joining the PHNs were more than 200 delegates from the Australian Medical Association, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, Australian Primary Care Nurse Association, Allied Health Professionals Australia, Mental Health Australia, the National Rural Health Alliance, and the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation sector.
The event produced a lengthy document entitled Strengthening Medicare and investing in Primary Health Care: a Roadmap for Reform, which called for three key changes to the sector:
- Voluntary patient registration: an opt-in system to promote long-term relationships between GPs and patients, making coordinated multidisciplinary care much easier to deliver.
- Workforce incentive programs that allow practices to expand to include additional services – especially allied health, nurses, mental health and medicines advice.
- Integrated healthcare neighbourhoods: a model for delivering affordable, accessible, preventative, quality healthcare in geographically defined communities, especially those in disadvantaged, rural and remote areas.
NWMPHN looks forward to the next Australian Government Budget, which we anticipate will support our progress towards achieving this plan.
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