Chris Scott: Make proposed doctor fee fair

WIMMERA Health Care Group chief executive Chris Scott believes a proposed $6 doctor's fee would also need to extend to general practitioner-type services provided by hospitals.

The fee proposal is in a sub-mission to the Federal Government's Commission of Audit by former health adviser to Tony Abbott, Terry Barnes.

Mr Barnes wrote the submission on behalf of the Australian Centre for Health Research.

It suggests bulk-billed patients be charged $6 to visit general practitioners, saving the Federal Government $750 million over four years.

"If the fee was introduced then I believe there should be a composite fee applied to emergency attendances," Mr Scott said.

He said the composite fee should only apply to triage category four or five patients, not emergency categories one to three.

Mr Scott said extending the fee to all general practitioner-type services would deliver a consistent message.

"The emergency department is clearly for emergencies, and we would encourage people to either contact the nurse on call or their general practice for non-emergency medical requirements," he said.

Last year Mr Scott urged residents to consult their doctors for non-urgent medical issues as patient demand for urgent care services surged.

He said the number of people seeking non-urgent medical care at the health service's emergency department had since decreased.

"It is good to see people are visiting their GPs and being able to have a relationship with their doctor and consistent medical history," he said.

He said Wimmera Health Care Group was the only one of three of the region's health services that would be able to collect a fee.

"We've got a 24-7 manned reception, so that wouldn't be an issue," Mr Scott said.

Leaders at West Wimmera Health Service, Edenhope and District Memorial Hospital and Rural Northwest Health said last week the proposed fee would be an administrative nightmare.

"We currently don't charge anyone in urgent care and the cost of having someone to administer the charge is not financially viable from our end," Rural Northwest Health chief executive Catherine Morley said.

Mr Barnes said his proposal was one of many the Commission of Audit would consider as part of a health spending review.

He believed his proposal was sound and fair, but said he would be willing to debate other ways to ensure fair access and to keep Medicare sustainable.

Minister for Health Peter Dutton declined to comment on the proposal.

"The commission's work is still being compiled and will be provided to the government in 2014," he said.

"The Federal Government will be able to consider any recommendations and respond after that time."

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