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Fight to save GP research BEACH project after closure announced

Fight to save GP research BEACH project after closure announced - Featured Image

The medical community has been in uproar this week with the announcement that Australia’s largest GP research program, the Sydney University BEACH project, would be shut down in June this year.

BEACH has been running for 18 years and collects information about clinical activities in general practice.

Its closure will leave: “very little reliable, independent national information about GP clinical activity in the future,” Director of the Family Medicine Research Centre, University of Sydney, Professor Helena Britt said in a statement.

Professor Britt explained that funding from the Department of Health ceased after June 30th this year.

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“BEACH has always struggled to gain sufficient funds each year. However, this notification comes when we also have a large shortfall in funding coming from other organisations such as NGOs and pharmaceutical companies, due to closure of many Government instrumentalities and authorities, and the heavy squeeze on pharmaceutical companies’ profits, resulting from changes to the PBS,” she wrote.

However there is hope, with an announcement late on Monday that the University of Sydney is looking into a range of options to ensure the continuing operation of BEACH over the next 12 months while it develops a longer term future plan with the Family Medicine Research Centre.

There has been shock and disappointment felt in the medical community.

RACGP President Dr Frank R Jones said the closure was a ‘bitter loss’.

“BEACH data allows us to measure patterns and change over time, providing valuable insight into the delivery of patient care, including consultation time, the number of problems managed in each encounter, and treatment provided. None of this can be gleaned from the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and hospital data,” he said.

Over 5000 citations of the BEACH program have been made in medical journals and publications over the past 18 years, according to Dr Jones.

“There is no logic to this move. It has simply added insult to injury for general practice,” he said.

“BEACH data has made a critical contribution to primary healthcare policy, providing the evidence by which decisions can be made by government.”

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The Australian Medical Association President Professor Brian Owler said he had written to Health Minister Sussan Ley to urge her to reconsider.

He said the Commonwealth had contributed just $4.6 million of the $26 million that had been used to fund the BEACH program over the years.

“This is a very small investment that has delivered significant policy outcomes and, with all the changes planned for general practice and primary care, I think there is a very strong case to extend funding for the program,” he said.

Professor Britt told the AMA’s Australian Medicine she had been inundated with inquiries and messages of support from individuals and groups around the country and internationally.

She said one of the biggest concerns is what will happen to the data accumulated through the program’s 18 years of operation, during which time more than 11,000 GPs have been surveyed.

Professor Britt said her group was looking at ways to ensure people would continue to have access to it.

“We would be happy to find a place with a senior analyst who could take request to analyse the data for specific purposes,” she said. “We would like to be able to keep that access up there for at least a little while.”

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