Some general practices in Tasmania could be forced to close or amalgamate with other more viable clinics as a result of the economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, a leading Launceston GP says.
Jerome Muir Wilson, a doctor at the Launceston Medical Centre estimated that Tasmanian general practices would have seen their revenue drop between 15-30 per cent as the coronavirus crisis gripped the state.
A recent national survey, conducted by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, gauged the impact of COVID-19 - which resulted in an enormous uptake of bulk billed telehealth services - on 980 practices around the country.
IN OTHER NEWS:
It found that 43 per cent had experienced a drop in revenue between 10-30 per cent since May last year, 27 per cent had suffered a drop between 30-60 per cent and 4 per cent a staggering loss of between 60-90 per cent.
Meanwhile, 57 per cent of those surveyed said they were optimistic that their practice would remain viable over the next six months; 31 per cent were neutral and 12 per cent were pessimistic.
Dr Muir Wilson said Tasmania was "partially protected" from the financial shock wracking other practices in Australia due to having less doctors and, therefore, less competition - but he said it had not been entirely insulated from the crisis.
"I think there'll be some closures or potentially amalgamations to help reduce costs," he said.
There have been reports that clinics interstate could start hiking their fees to make up their revenue shortfall.
"During COVID, patients [in Tasmania] well and truly dropped off but now they're re-engaged into health care," Dr Muir Wilson said. "So they're presenting again like normal, I'd say."
"We think telehealth is a really good option that we'd like to see into the future but it needs to be sustainably funded to continue."
Toby Gardner, a GP, noted that Medicare rebates had remained relatively static over the past 20 years, putting the pinch on some practices, particularly in the midst of COVID-19.
I think there'll be some closures or potentially amalgamations to help reduce costs.Jerome Muir Wilson, GP
Newstead Medical, where Dr Gardner works, is a mixed billing clinic.
"To maintain a viable business, we've had to increase our private fees," he said. "Increasing the Medicare rebate ... would allow us to bulk bill more people in the future."
Health Minister Sarah Courtney said the state government had established a primary health care grants program, supporting more than 400 GPs and pharmacies with $10,000 grants.
"We know there is pressure on [GPs] as a result of the COVID-19 emergency," she said.
"We will continue to engage regularly with primary care organisations ... to support the primary care sector."
During COVID, people well and truly dropped off but now they're re-engaged into health care. So they're presenting again like normal, I'd say.
What do you think? Send us a letter to the editor: