Telehealth services will be made permanent after the federal government announced $308.6 million in funding for primary healthcare services.
Health and Aged Care Minister Greg Hunt said the virtual service would become a permanent feature of the primary healthcare system with $106 million in funding made available over the next four years.
Mr Hunt said the decision would provide flexibility to patients and doctors for the delivery of healthcare, allowing GPs, specialists, and allied health professionals to continue consultations by phone or online.
He said the service had played a critical role in providing care for hundreds of thousands of patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 89,000 providers using telehealth services.
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Karen Price said the announcement marked a wonderful day in the history of general practice.
"The era-defining episode of COVID has served to highlight just how intertwined health service delivery is with the health of the nation," she said.
"Telehealth has been a remarkable and innovative solution which enabled our country to stay as safe as possible."
Dr Price said telehealth would continue to help deliver sorely needed services to regional and rural Australians.
Bass Liberal MHR Bridget Archer said while accessibility to GP services was an issue she would continue to fight for, the introduction of permanent telehealth services was welcome.
"The use of telehealth services throughout the COVID pandemic demonstrated its flexibility and convenience and, from my many discussions with our community, I know the introduction of telehealth at the beginning of the pandemic had an immediate, positive impact particularly in more remote and rural areas where transport or other accessibility issues are an on-going challenge," she said.
Tasmanian Labor senator Helen Polley said the federal government had delayed continuing telehealth and hoped the government understood the importance of the service ensuring it would operate indefinitely.
Monday's announcement also included a swath of funding to a range of primary healthcare services including $58.8 million to support and improve access to mental health services.
$41.2 million was provided for regional and rural services, with $77 million allocated to improve access to Medicare and $25.6 million for primary care to fight COVID-19.
In addition to funding for regional and rural services, changes to the distribution priority area classification have been implemented, making it easier for rural and regional areas to recruit GPs.
Mr Hunt said the change meant more rural and regional areas will be able to utilise the DPA system when recruiting doctors for their region.
"This change will help ensure rural and regional areas have a choice of more doctors to work in their local communities, leading to increased access to GP and primary care services for many thousands of Australians in regional and rural communities," he said.
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Recruiting primary health providers received a further boost after the government announced doctors and nurse practitioners working in rural and regional Australia could have all, or part of their Higher Education Loan Programme debt set aside.
Mr Hunt said the initiative would allow for the suspension of indexation on HELP debts for eligible doctors and nurse practitioners while they were residing in and completing eligible work in rural, remote or very remote areas.
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