Study finds Western Sydney doctors need much greater support

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A study by Western Sydney University has found local health professionals are struggling to treat the large number of socioeconomically disadvantaged patients with complex health problems who often require unaffordable specialist care.

The study, funded by the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute, investigated the experiences of 57 Primary Health Care Providers and consumers in the Blacktown- Mt Druitt area, providing new insights into the challenges facing the health system in western Sydney.

The report found general practitioners (GPs) were concerned with the number of patients presenting with chronic illness and multi-morbidity, many of whom found difficulty in navigating the health system and often spoke English as a second language.

"These GPs and their staff are deeply committed to providing high quality health care for their patients, but are faced with unique challenges that make this difficult," says project lead Professor Jenny Reath, from the School of Medicine.

"High rates of socio-economic disadvantage mean many patients can't access non-GP specialist health care, with GPs forced to plug the gap and provide treatment without proper support."

"This is compounded by the fact patients often fail to fill prescriptions and delay care for financial reasons, leading to poor health outcomes and additional costs to the health system down the track."

The report also found doctors in Western Sydney were concerned about a perceived failure of government to recognise the importance of primary health care.

"Doctors in the study set a high priority on quality care, but adequately addressing patient needs was time consuming, and in the fee-for-service model of remuneration, especially with Medicare Freeze, these GPs are providing this care at their own cost," says Professor Reath.

In response, the report provides a number of recommendations to ensure the long term sustainability of the health care system, including:

  • Support for patient-centred, team based, integrated health care for an enrolled patient cohort as exemplified by Patient Centred Medical Home models of care
  • GP remuneration rewarding quality of care that acknowledges the particular challenges of working in areas of disadvantage
  • Investment to provide interpreters, bilingual staff and training in cultural competence for health care providers, as well as health literacy programs in the community

"Whilst there are new models for primary health care being planned and implemented by both Commonwealth and State governments, these do not adequately recognize the additional challenges for health care providers working in areas of socio-economic and health disadvantage." says Professor Reath.

This research was a project of the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute, which is supported by a grant from the Australian Government Department of Health under the Primary Health Care Research, Evaluation and Development Strategy. The information and opinions contained in it do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Australian Government Department of Health.


25 June 2016

Mark Smith - Senior Media Officer