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Family Doctor Week celebrates role of GPs in nation’s health

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The enormous contribution to the nation’s health made by more than 30,000 GPs working around Australia is being recognised by the AMA through its annual Family Doctor Week.

This year the Week, which began on 20 July and runs through to 26 July, has as its theme Your Family Doctor – Keeping You Healthy, to underline the central role played by GPs throughout the lives of the patients in safeguarding their health.

AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler said Family Doctor Week was a special opportunity to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the nation’s GPs, and to highlight just how important is the part the play in the nation’s heath.

A/Professor Owler, who will mark the Week with a speech to the National Press Club in Canberra tomorrow, 22 July, said family doctors worked closely with their patients to detect and treat health problems early, improve management of existing conditions and provide advice and guidance for healthier lifestyles.

“Nearly 90 per cent of Australians have a regular GP, and enjoy better health because of that ongoing and trusted relationship,” the AMA President said. “The personalised care and preventive health advice provided by GPs about exercise, diet and leading a healthy lifestyle keep people out of hospitals and keep health costs down.”

“General practice is the cornerstone of primary health care and the most cost-effective part of the health system.”

The AMA’s celebration of GPs comes against the backdrop of Federal Budget measures which are seen to undermine general practice and primary care, including the imposition of a $7 co-payment for GP, pathology and diagnostic imaging services, a $5 cut to the Medicare rebate, and cuts to GP education and training.

A/Professor Owler has held meetings with Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Treasurer Joe Hockey and Health Minister Peter Dutton to voice AMA concerns and argue the case for a change in the Government’s approach.

The Government has been receptive to the AMA’s call. It has indicated that it may examine ways to exclude patients in residential aged care from the co-payment, and has invited the AMA to suggest other changes.

“Family Doctor Week allows the AMA to highlight all that is good about general practice and family doctors, and it also allows us to discuss issues or policies that need to be resolved to allow general practice to provide even better services to Australian communities,” A/Prof Owler said.

AMA is concerned that the co-payment will discourage many patients, especially the chronically ill, the elderly and those who are socially disadvantaged, from seeing their GP – leading to more serious and expensive to treat health problems later on.

Researchers at Sydney University’s Family Medicine Research Centre estimate the co-payment will add almost $200 a year to the average family’s medical bill, while self-funded retirees can expect to fork out an extra $244 a year.

Such increases are likely to deter a significant proportion of patients from seeking timely care, a recent report from the COAG Reform Council suggests. The report found that, even before a co-payment was introduced, almost 6 per cent of people put off seeing a doctor because of cost, and in some areas the proportion was as high as 13 per cent.

Throughout Family Doctor Week the AMA will be making announcements and releasing videos highlighting the importance of the GP-patient relationship and the contribution family doctors can make to getting and staying healthy.

 The videos and announcements can be downloaded from the AMA Family Doctor Week website at: familydoctorweek2014

Adrian Rollins