WA News Letters After Hours and Consumers
After Hours and Consumers
Written by Ms Pip Brennan
Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Dear Editor,

It sounds too good to be true. No waiting, no going to the GP surgery, and someone coming to you in the comfort of your home, after hours, and bulk billing you. What is not to like?

I remember getting a fridge magnet advertising this wondrous service and despite thinking it was probably too good to be true, I put it on my fridge for future reference.

The future came about a year later with another of my chronic migraine headaches, and no migraine medication to hand. I was actually able to find the fridge magnet immediately, a miracle in itself, and rang the number. I discovered after the doctor arrived that I wouldn’t be able to get hold of my regular prescription but was given painkillers to assist.

Sadly, those painkillers were ones I didn’t usually take and caused my mild nausea to become more acute. Some hours after he left, I made my way reluctantly to an emergency department for a shot of anti-emetic and pain killers.

Having carefully scoured the After-Hours: Urgent or Free For All? (June edition) and unpacking the many acronyms and factions that are behind this issue, there seems to be two models:

  • Traditional – GP working for a GP, providing care that can’t wait until morning
  • Business-based – after-hours GP model of advertising directly to consumers and being a little creative about the MBS number.

So understandably, Australia has woken up from the after-hours GP dream with a $250-million hangover and concerns about both safety and value for money.

It would appear that neither model has been created with feedback from consumers. Clearly, we consumers are very keen on avoiding emergency departments, being able to attend GP appointments without having to take time off work, and we love being able to wait at home rather than in a GP’s waiting room.

Whether any of this is affordable is another thing but we would urge that any review of the After-Hours GP service needs to include patient feedback first and foremost. Home GP visits where patients can get scripts and referrals would clearly meet the needs of patients with a disability, parents with small children and no car etc. We must never forget that the current alternative, a trip to the Emergency Department for something that could be dealt with in primacy care is always going to be very expensive.

Ms Pip Brennan, ED, Health Consumers Council of WA