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    Lister House Medical Clinic chief executive Amanda Wilson.

Respiratory clinic future funding in question

By Jessica Grimble

Federal funding for a Wimmera medical clinic operating in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic has almost dried up.

Horsham’s Lister House Medical Clinic has run its GP-led Respiratory Clinic, GPRC – one of 97 federally-funded clinics – since early-2020.

Chief executive Amanda Wilson said funding was due to cease on December 31 and despite desperate contact with the government and MPs, communication about its future was not forthcoming. She vowed the respiratory clinic would continue its work regardless – but suggested it could become an extension of the private-practice Lister House and consultations might incur a fee.

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“We’re not going to let our community down,” she said.

“If people are genuinely sick, they go to the respiratory clinic. We’re seeing 50 people a day, on average – and these are people who would otherwise be at the emergency department or medical clinics and spreading germs and viruses to other people.”

A Federal Department of Health and Aged Care spokeswoman said the GPRC program began scaling back in August.

“National Cabinet have agreed to a nationally-consistent approach to transition Australia’s COVID-19 response based on six principles and to return funding and policy efforts to a more sustainable footing. This government will continue to monitor COVID-19 and recalibrate the response according to the prevailing epidemiological circumstances,” the spokeswoman said.

“Based on this information, the government will make further decisions on the Australia’s national COVID-19 response for 2023 shortly.

“The government continues to invest in primary care, and is focused on strengthening Medicare and making it easier to see a doctor.

“The government is confident that sufficient coverage will remain in place to protect Australians with moderate respiratory symptoms through further waves.” 

Federal Member for Mallee Dr Anne Webster wrote to Health Minister Mark Butler a fortnight ago calling for clarity on the future funding for the Horsham clinic. She is yet to receive a response.

Dr Webster said some GPRCs were transferring to urgent care clinics, but their locations were not confirmed.

Mrs Wilson said the clinic was unsuccessful in its bid for State Government funding to continue the respiratory clinic as a priority primary care clinic, PPCC.

The state funding, akin to its federal counterpart, is designed to ease pressure on hospitals. The closest clinic is UFS Pharmacy in Ballarat.

“We always knew the funding wasn’t forever – but we’re not getting any direction as to what comes next and we are three weeks from the end of the contract,” Mrs Wilson said.
“We have to have staff. I know other places where staff are leaving, right on Christmas, because they’re uncertain about the future of their jobs.

“If the government turned GPRCs into primary or urgent care clinics, we could swap into that on January 1.”

State Member for Lowan Emma Kealy expressed concern that after December 31, the closest free PCR testing to the Wimmera was at Ballarat.

“We have a critical shortage of GPs in this region, and a lot of people have relied on going to the respiratory clinic to either get tested quickly, or to be seen to and have access to antibiotics or other respiratory-related treatment they would have otherwise had to wait longer to access,” she said.

“There is an increase in hospitalisations due to COVID-19 — and this includes children and babies. We only have to look to the Royal Children’s Hospital, which is overwhelmed with demand this week. “If governments are not providing funding to clinics, such as the respiratory clinic in Horsham, and treating people before they get critically ill, it just puts more and more pressure on our healthcare system.”  

The entire December 7, 2022 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!