People in rural and regional areas of Australia are 2-3 times more likely to avoid seeing a GP or delay filling a prescription due to cost, according to a report published Thursday highlighting disparities in access to health across the nation’s 31 PHNs.
The National Health Performance Authority report, the first nationally comparable dataset since the establishment of Primary Health Networks in July, shows significant gaps across a host of indicators.
The full data tables can be downloaded here, but to summarise:
- those reporting excellent, very good or good health: ranged from 81% in Tasmania and western NSW to 90% in north Perth
- felt they waited longer than acceptable to see their GP: as high as 30% in country WA and as low as 15% on the Gold Coast
- delayed seeing their GP in preceding 12 months due to cost: high of 9% in the Murray, low of 2% in central/eastern Sydney
- avoided filling a script in the preceding 12 months due to cost: 13% in Darling Downs and West Moreton 4% northern Sydney/Country WA
- needed to see a GP but didn’t in the preceding 12 months: 25% western Queensland, 10% northern Sydney
It’s worth noting that the NT data did not include discrete Aboriginal communities.
There’s been some interesting discussion about the report including this piece in The Conversation.
— John McDonald (@MaccaPolitical) September 30, 2015
— Lesley Russell Wolpe (@LRussellWolpe) September 30, 2015
Opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King had this to say:
These figures can only worsen as the Liberal Party’s Medicare freeze places even bigger barriers in the path of people attempting to see a GP by driving down bulk billing and driving up fees.
The report also finds a strong correlation between lack of affordable access to GPs and greater numbers of patients visiting Emergency Departments.
Research earlier this year by the NHPA found 23 per cent of patients who presented to casualty, felt they should instead have been treated by a GP.
The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association said the government must consider access barriers in its review of the Medicare Benefits Schedule, while Dr Bastian Seidel, who is on the MBS review panel, urged an end to politicisation of the issue in an interview on The Drum.
The figures dovetail with a Grattan Institute report published this week on GP shortages in rural and remote areas of Australia, proposing stopgap measures including prescribing rights for pharmacists and introduction of physician assistants.
Rolling out these measures in the seven worst-hit areas, where 1 in 20 Australians currently reside, would cost just $30 million, the report says.