“Help us help more patients in need”: RACGP calls for changes to after-hours primary care

Royal Australian College of GPs

The Royal Australia College of GPs (RACGP) is calling for changes to after-hours care so that more patients across Australia can get the care they need, when they need it.

It comes following the College’s submission to the Department of Health and Aged Care’s Review of After Hours Primary Care Policies and Programs, which is investigating general practice care after-hours services and what needs to change.

In May 2023, the Albanese Government announced new changes to after-hours care through Primary Health Networks, or PHNs, and Healthdirect. However, RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins said that further enhancements were needed.

“More must be done to help patients get the after-hours care they need,” she said.

“Funding drives results. By supporting GPs to provide this care, we can expand what we do, and keep more patients out of hospital. By allowing GPs to claim after-hours rebates from 6pm on weeknights and 12pm on Saturdays for services delivered in the practice, we can enable more practices to remain open longer. In my home of Mackay, there was previously an after-hours clinic that provided 24 hour care. However, after the Government made changes to the funding model, it’s now operated by emergency doctors, costs patients three times as much, and closes at 10pm. So, getting the funding model right is vital.”

Dr Higgins said that maintaining continuity of care should always be a priority.

“Ensuring the best long-term health outcomes for all patients must be our primary aim,” she said.

“Patients would prefer to see their usual GP and practice team. General practice acts as a central point of care for patients who are accessing care from multiple sources, and this is why we have expressed concern regarding existing after-hours models. Best practice multidisciplinary care teams include GPs working alongside other healthcare professionals to achieve the best possible care.

“It’s vital that GPs and practice teams are included in the design, operation, and evaluation of all after-hours primary care services. These services must be available to all patients, including those living in rural and regional areas, with special consideration given to vulnerable populations, and programs should be tailored to fit the needs of local communities. The RACGP stands ready to work with the Government to make this happen.”

The principles of care articulated in the College’s position statement After hours services in primary healthcare underlined this latest submission.

/Public Release.