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Whither Medicare Locals?

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Health Minister Peter Dutton has damned the Medicare Local network with faint praise, fuelling speculation that many of the organisations will be scrapped or amalgamated in the May Budget.

In a broad hint that the position of many of the nation’s 61 Medicare Local organisations is precarious, Mr Dutton said last week that “we think there are some good Medicare Locals doing some good work”.

The far-from fulsome endorsement will do nothing to allay concerns that many of the organisations will be axed or amalgamated.

Medicare Locals have long been in the Coalition’s crosshairs, and late last year it commissioned a review into the scheme, led by former Chief Medical Officer, Professor John Horvath.

“What I’m determined to do is to make sure that we can get money back to doctors and nurses and away from health bureaucrats,” Mr Dutton said.

The AMA has backed a comprehensive overhaul of the system, including ditching the name Medicare Locals.

In its submission to the Horvath review, the AMA said that, while there was a need for a network of primary health care organisations to improve the coordination and integration of health services in local areas, Medicare Locals had not delivered.

AMA President, Dr Steve Hambleton, said the performance of Medicare Locals had been “patchy”, and there was little evidence of improvement over the organisations they had replaced.

Instead, the AMA argued, they need to be recast as GP-led organisations that were responsive to local conditions and not over-burdened by excessive red tape and policy prescriptions.

Dr Hambleton said GP leadership is vital.

“GPs are the lynchpins of the health system and are acutely aware of existing gaps in access to care and the impact on patients of badly designed or poorly integrated health care services,” Dr Hambleton said.

An AMA survey of 1212 GPs from around Australia found widespread dissatisfaction with the performance of Medicare Locals, including ineffective communication and a failure to improve the coordination of local primary health care services.

“The AMA will work with the new Government to implement sensible reforms that support improved access to care for patients,” Dr Hambleton said.

Adrian Rollins