Health Minister Kim Hames has accused GPs of boosting their bottom line by telling patients to return for repeat visits they don’t need, sparking outrage among doctors.
Dr Hames, a GP before entering Parliament, made the remarks during a Budget estimates hearing today which canvassed the effects of the Federal Government’s $7 bulk bill co-payment at doctors’ surgeries.
Claiming there was “a huge over-servicing of patients” in general practice, Dr Hames said the co-payment may result in patients choosing to go to the doctor less, but claimed GPs were also to blame for unnecessary visits.
“Without being too disrespectful to GPs, those who struggle to have enough patients will get people to come back for repeat visits,” he said.
“‘Your blood pressure’s a bit high – I’d better check it again in two weeks’. (That’s) another visit, another $36, and that happens more than I would like to see.”
Australian Medical Association WA president Richard Choong said Dr Hames had “insulted so many of his colleagues today” and called on him to back up his claim with evidence.
“I believe his claims are anecdotal but those anecdotes aren’t true,” he said.
“He’s suggesting we inappropriately manage or mismanage, when we manage according to the latest protocols.”
Royal Australian College of GPs WA chair Frank Jones said GPs practiced preventative medicine and checking elevated blood pressure was exactly the sort of monitoring which could save a life or reduce emergency department presentations.
Dr Hames told the hearing WA stood to lose $308 million over four years in promised Federal Government funds, but only $7 million next year.
“In a (total WA Health) budget of $8 billion, that doesn’t affect our capacity to provide services,” he said.
Overall, Commonwealth funding to WA rose this year by $200 million from $1.52 billion in 2012-13.
Facing Opposition accusations that he would have “lambasted” a federal Labor government for breaking National Health Agreements, Dr Hames said “I’m complaining now - I don’t think it’s fair what they’ve done, cutting those funds”.
The cut allocations were on top of up to $20 million a year in cancelled payments rewarding performances in emergency departments and waitlists surgery times, which WA earned in the past three or four years, Dr Hames said.