Illawarra doctors fear immunisation rates among children could fall after the Federal Government scrapped an incentive payment scheme to general practitioners.
Dr Russell Pearson, deputy chair of the Illawarra Shoalhaven Medicare Local board, said the Government's axing of the general practice immunisation incentive (GPII) scheme, which gave bonus payments to doctors to immunise children up to seven years, ignored the important role general practice has played in raising immunisation rates.
"This has been done as a cost-saving measure but, in the fullness of time, the cost savings will evaporate because of the expenses involved in managing avoidable epidemics," Dr Pearson said. "Money spent on preventative health measures usually far outweighs the cost of treating the illness prevented."
A spokesman for Federal Health Minister Jenny Macklin confirmed the scheme had been cut from next year's budget but concerns that doctors would not be paid at all was wrong.
"Doctors will still be paid to vaccinate children - they just won't get an incentive payment on top of the standard pay," the spokesman said.
He also said the new, fairer scheme shifted the incentive from doctors to parents, whereby parents would be required to immunise their children to qualify for the Family Tax Benefit Part A.
But Mr Pearson said he was not convinced, believing the new system would cover children in families outside of the Family Tax Benefit part A.
"The previous funding model produced one of the most successful population health outcomes that Australia has ever seen," Dr Pearson said.
"It has taken nearly 20 years of solid public health policy through measures such as the GPII payment to get Australia's immunisation rate to over 90 per cent. Changing the policy, from what we know works, to one in which there is no evidence, could put our high levels of immunisation at risk."