Radio Doctor Illawarra general manager Frank Wallner says proposed cuts to Medicare-funded after-hours house calls will hit the most vulnerable.
Mr Wallner said 19,000 Illawarra residents relied on the local service each year – including many who were elderly, those with young families and those with disabilities.
However moves to put limits on Medicare rebates for after-hours work could see the service fold – and its patients left in the lurch.
‘’The recommendations from the (Medicare Benefits Schedule Review Taskforce) are very worrying to after-hours medical deputising services like ours,’’ he said.
‘’Predominantly because the proposals would essentially mean that the higher rebate amounts are only payable when a patient gets an after-hours visit by their regular GP.
‘’So doctors contracting for a service such as ours are likely to suffer a significant decrease in potential earnings – up to 40 per cent less.’’
Mr Wallner said the not-for-profit co-operative already struggled to attract doctors to work after hours.
‘’This would provide further disincentive, and make it nearly impossible for us to get the doctors we need to service the region.’’
With many GPs unwilling to be on call after a full day, Mr Wallner said patients would be left without viable after-hours options.
‘’We will see more non-critical emergency department presentations,’’ he said. ‘’And we will see vulnerable patients left without medical care, as it’s very difficult for elderly or disabled patients or those with young families to get out after hours.’’
The taskforce’s recommendations are now open for public discussion ahead of a decision by Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt later this year.
Labor’s health spokesman Walt Secord urged the Federal Government not to wind back the home doctor service. He said it would see unnecessary ambulance call-outs and lead to patients flooding emergency departments with minor ailments.