Flu deaths set to rise in 2012
AN IPSWICH doctor has warned changes to government funding for flu vaccinations could lead to a rise in deaths this winter.
With the onset of flu season fast approaching, Ipswich Medical Centre doctor Paul Curson said fewer practices were reminding at-risk patients to get vaccinated this year.
Dr Curson said changes to Federal Government funding gave Ipswich medical practices less incentive to promote flu shots, affecting the rate of people being immunised.
"The Federal Government has withdrawn the price signal per head for items including flu shots and wound care items... which means fewer people will get vaccinated because there's less incentive for practices to remind them, which will result in higher morbidity this flu season," he said.
Queensland Health figures show that from January 1 to May 13 this year, there have been 630 cases of confirmed influenza cases across Queensland - an increase on the
2007-2011 average of 543 for the same time period.
"The previous funding was provided through the practice nurses items of service, and now we're being offered a grant instead," Mr Curson said.
"The change happened on January 1, 2012, and we may have received $7000 to $10,000 before then and last quarter we only received $900.
"The principle is the pricing of providing services, which provided private practices with financial support."
Australian Medical Association Queensland president Richard Kidd said the changes, including an impending July 1 cut of the Practice Incentives Program, could put more financial pressure on practices.
"At the moment the Practice Incentives Program is a grant that is based on 90% of certain groups of people being immunised - for instance there's a children's program," Dr Kidd said.
"It will disappear completely, and doctors might already be dis-incentified about the changes.
"Providing adequate immunisation is really important, but costs will increase so some practices might have to cover costs by making patients pay more.
"The changes might push some practices out of bulk-billing, because making money out of that is becoming very difficult."
The funding change follows the closure of the Ipswich and West Moreton Division of General Practice, which was replaced by the Federal Government's new West Moreton-Oxley Medicare Local.
West Moreton-Oxley Medicare Local's Cheryl Barneveld, the quality improvement manager for the immunisation program, said delivery of the Federal Government's immunisation program had not changed.
"We still have practice support and we go out and help local practices with reporting," Ms Barneveld said.
She said she could not provide Ipswich figures on how many people had received flu shots this year.
"We wouldn't have local information available because we're spread across three regions that used to be managed separately," she said.
Queensland Health could not confirm how many people in Ipswich had received flu shots this year.
GET THE JAB
Queensland Health is urging people in at-risk groups to seek immunisation.
Vulnerable groups include the elderly, pregnant women, indigenous people aged over 15 and those at risk due to medical conditions such as heart and respiratory diseases.
Vaccination is available through GPs, Aboriginal medical services and other immunisation providers.