For the first time, more than 20,000 South Australians living in rural and remote communities will be able to access a range of bulk-billed primary health care services under an innovative Federal Coalition Government-funded initiative.
Patients in Lameroo, Wallaroo and Ceduna can now visit their local hospital to access bulk-billed GP consultations, appointments with allied health professionals and other nursing and midwifery services.
The initiative fills gaps in primary care provision in rural and remote South Australia by allowing Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) payments to be claimed for a range of services, through a funding boost provided by Federal Coalition Government.
States are generally not permitted to claim MBS funding for services delivered in their public hospitals, as the Federal Coalition Government already provides such funding through its national public hospitals funding.
The newly eligible sites, put forward by the SA Government and agreed by the Federal Government, are Ceduna District Health Service, Mallee Medical Practice at Lameroo, and Northern Yorke Peninsula Health Service at Wallaroo.
Making the announcement today in Adelaide, Federal Regional Health Minister, Dr David Gillespie said the three services support a significant number of people living not only in, but around these rural communities.
Joining Dr Gillespie and Member for Grey, Rowan Ramsey for the announcement, SA Minister for Health and Wellbeing, Stephen Wade, who said the initiative would increase primary care services available for rural patients and help to keep those services sustainable.
“The challenge of sustaining rural health services is no secret, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Minister Wade said.
“This is an innovative service model and once operational, will be the first time we have used it in South Australia.”
Mr Ramsey said the initiative was another way the Coalition Government was bridging the city-country divide in South Australia.
“The initiative recognises that many patients in small rural and remote towns have limited access to primary health care services and that in response to a lack of private practices, many rural and remote public hospitals have employed medical officers to make traditional GP services available,” Mr Ramsey said.
“I’m focussed on improving healthcare for local patients, and anything we can do to support health professionals to join or stay in local rural workforce, is a step in the right direction.”
“Since its introduction in 2006, this initiative has been a game changer for many small remote communities around the nation,” the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, said.
“It has increased support for primary health care delivered in rural and remote public hospitals and health services in small communities, with major benefits for patients.”
Federal Member for Barker, Tony Pasin said he recently hosted a community meeting in this area and received feedback that patients had difficulties in accessing bulk-billing care.
“This is just another measure the Federal Government is using to improve access to care for patients in my area,” Mr Pasin said.
“Rural and regional patients deserve to have access to healthcare just like the major cities. I know this will be of great benefit to many patients.” Mr Pasin said.
Under the initiative, South Australia must reinvest at least 70 per cent of the MBS funds in new services and improvements at approved eligible sites or outreach services.
Reinvestment of rebates into primary care services and providing incentives to doctors and other health professionals will attract them to live and work in the more remote parts of the state.
Rebates are reinvested according to local community needs and may include after hours and emergency primary care, locum support, mental health support services, allied health, nursing and midwifery support services, professional development and new equipment to better deliver primary care. Reinvestment decisions are made using local governance arrangements.
In 2020–21, eligible sites collectively received approximately $16.2 million in additional revenue to improve access to primary care services in their communities.