Medicare co-payment changes to add extra strain to Qld ambulance service

Ambulance officers will face new challenges in meeting the health needs of Queenslanders after the rushed implementation of the Federal Government’s new Medicare co-payment plan, according to their union United Voice.

The Government’s plan, last amended two days before Christmas, will slash Medicare rebates for consultations of less than 10 minutes and is due for implementation on 19 January.

United Voice delegate Darren Brown said the new plan would mean considerable additional strain on ambulance officers.

“Inadequate resourcing remains one of the most serious problems within the Queensland Ambulance Service,” Mr Brown said.

“We’re already seeing regular incidents of stations being left unattended as teams are diverted to fill shifts at other stations and now watch-houses after the new State Government initiative implemented recently.

 “This new policy is likely to cause a blow-out in GP waiting list times, which will seriously impact ambulance crews called out to handle increased caseloads as patients struggle to get in to see their usual family doctor.

“We’d also expect to see increased incidents of ramping as emergency departments struggle to manage the increase in patient numbers.”

The flagged changes are also expected to lead to a reduction in GP visits to nursing homes, as these visits become less financially viable for the small percentage of GPs currently doing them.

“If that happens, the impact on ambulance crews will be significant,” Mr Brown said.

 “I’d expect our workload into nursing homes to increase 10-fold, as will the presentation of these patients in emergency departments.”

United Voice secretary Gary Bullock said ongoing problems with resourcing were why his union had launched its Code One campaign.

“Ramping is still a serious problem across Queensland, with serious issues reported by our members as recently as yesterday,” Mr Bullock said.

“The health of the Queensland community is too important to be short-changed by inadequate resourcing or an ill-thought out, rushed policy that puts profits before patients.”

The Medicare co-payment amendments will cut the rebate for a visit by a non-concessional patient of between five and 10 minutes from $37.05 to $16.95 for a specialist GP, and from $21 to $11 for a non-specialist GP.

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