Five new medical clinics run by nurses opened in Perth this week after winning the same right as doctors to bulk-bill patients.
The Revive group, which now has six bulk-billing in-pharmacy clinics in Perth, said that after years of battling red tape and doctors, nurse practitioners could treat patients under Medicare at no cost, including writing prescriptions and referrals for tests.
Director Louise Stewart said it had been an uphill battle since she launched the clinics in 2008 because the Medicare rebate for nurse practitioners had been lower than for doctors, which meant her patients had to pay a gap.
The rollout of new clinics had taken longer than expected because of the rebate anomaly and opposition from some GPs and medical lobby groups.
Ms Stewart said the 2009-10 Federal health budget allocated almost $60 million over four years to give nurse practitioners access to Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme but only a fraction had been spent because of resistance.
Opening bulk-billing clinics was a significant win for nurse practitioners, given the shortage of health care, growing demands of an ageing population and the rising rate of chronic disease.
"This offers a huge opportunity for nurse practitioners to provide patients with professional health services for the treatment of common illnesses, chronic diseases and preventive health programs," Ms Stewart said.
Federal MP Christian Porter welcomed the clinics, saying WA had the lowest number of doctors per capita of any State.
"In the outer metropolitan suburbs and rural towns that make up the electorate of Pearce there is an acute shortage of doctors, which is a critical issue for these communities," he said.
"This will be a very positive development for local people by increasing their access to better medical care."
But Australian Medical Association WA vice-president Michael Gannon said the money should have been spent on general practice.
"It can be hard for people to get an appointment with a GP but that's no reason to go for second best," Dr Gannon said."If people are sick you want to see a doctor, and if you want to be a doctor, you should go to medical school."