‘Exploding’ incidence of chronic disease must be tackled now, say GPs

A peak body representing GPs is urging the government to prioritise preventative care over acute care in its upcoming National Health Reform Agreement (NHRA).

The Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP) is calling on the federal government to spend more on preventative healthcare to keep Australians out of hospital. It says a greater focus on preventative healthcare will ensure no patient is left behind.

It has made a submission to the NHRA review, saying this is a golden opportunity to reshape healthcare for the better.

RACGP president Dr Nicole Higgins says a focus on preventative care will simultaneously keep Australians healthier and reduce the burden on the hospital network.

“We have a once-in-a-lifetime reform opportunity and we need to get it right to meet the health challenges of today, and the future,” she says.

“Just two per cent of Australia’s health spending goes to preventive care, which can stop chronic disease in its tracks. The vast majority of funding goes to acute care in hospitals. Governments pay more for a single patient hospital admission than what it would cost to send that same patient to their GP twice a week for an entire year. 

“We need to refocus our health system to prioritise keeping people healthy and out of hospital, as well as better supporting the growing number of older Australians and people with chronic, complex diseases.

Chronic disease a national scourge

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), just over eight in 10 people (81.4 per cent) have a least one long-term health condition and around one in two (49.9 per cent) have a health condition that could be considered ‘chronic’.

With a ‘long-term’ health condition, symptoms are ultimately resolved. In contrast, a chronic condition is long-lasting and ongoing with no end in sight.

“Chronic disease is exploding,” says Dr Higgins.

“Almost half of all Australians now have a chronic disease, including mental health concerns, and they need complex, ongoing care in the community from their GP and care team.

“If we reform our health system to be proactive about keeping people healthy, it will not only be more cost-effective for health funding, there will also be numerous flow-on benefits for our communities and country.”

How can chronic disease be addressed?

In its submission to the inquiry, the RACGP recommends funding for GPs to employ multidisciplinary teams, including practice nurses and allied health workers. This would enable GPs to delegate care to other health professionals in the team and improve access for patients in a safe environment. 

The council recommends supporting practices to implement ‘social prescribing’ programs (community activities) and outreach to hard-to-reach patients, population and community health.

It also suggests providing more after-hours care and expanding services to meet the needs of the community and improve access for patients, such as emergency care, skin procedures, or setting fractures in rural communities and deprived urban areas, which face barriers to care.

Do you suffer from any chronic health conditions? What changes need to be made to the health system? Let us know in the comments section below.

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