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Letter to the Minister for Health regarding proposed telehealth changes

SHQ CEO, Debra Barnes, has sent a formal letter to the Hon. Greg Hunt, MP, Australian Government Minister for Health, regarding the proposed changes to telehealth. The letter can be read below.

 

Dear Minister,

Sexual Health Quarters (SHQ) would like to applaud the progressive decision and foresight given to the introduction of telehealth as a Medicare rebatable item, and the positive impact this has had allowing us to continue providing essential health services to the people in our community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

SHQ delivers essential community based reproductive and sexual health services in Western Australia and provides specialist training to GPs in this field. SHQ works alongside GPs to support their patients in the provision of specialised reproductive health and does not provide services in competition with general practice.

SHQ appreciates the concerns raised by the Australian Medical Association and Royal Australian College of General Practitioners regarding the overuse of these introduced item numbers, and their concerns regarding “pop-up” medical services and pharmacy telehealth models. SHQ agrees and recognises that continuous and integrated care is critical to improving the health status of the community.

Our organisation’s mission is better sexual health and wellbeing for all Western Australians, with a particular focus on the vulnerable and at-risk members of our community and ensuring we are accessible to these individuals.

On behalf of SHQ, I am writing to request that our clients be exempt from the conditions outlined in stage 7 of the telehealth reforms announced on July 10th.

Our reasons for requesting this exemption are set out below:

  • Access to telehealth has enabled vital reproductive and sexual healthcare to continue to be delivered by SHQ across WA. This has occurred in the context of several other service providers limiting their services at the same time. As a recognised essential service, it has allowed us to provide services to clients who would have been otherwise unable to access them.
  • Telehealth has supported marginalised people, including young people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, people with disability and people living in regional and remote areas. Some members of these priority populations do not have a regular GP.
  • A significant portion of patient consultations at SHQ are often first-time consultations relating to management of a complex sexual health matter that their GP may not be experienced with; many clients are referred to SHQ by their GP, or the individual may not feel comfortable seeing their regular GP in relation to a sexual health matter.
  • New clients are able to access time sensitive services through telehealth delivered by SHQ, such as emergency contraception or unintended pregnancy consultations.
  • Many of the clinical services provided by SHQ necessarily occur on a less than annual basis. Examples of this are our cost effective long acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) provided on a 3-5-year basis, and cervical screening occurs now on a 5-yearly basis. These are not only best-practice approaches, but also cost effective for government. Initial work-ups for these consultations for underserved populations can be carried out under telehealth arrangements, thus reducing the time the client needs to be away from home, and reducing their risks for COVID-19.
  • A significant number of our clients have expressed strong support of telehealth services during the pandemic period as it has limited the need for them to travel whilst still being able to access vital sexual health services.

SHQ provides care to people seeking the specialist knowledge of our clinicians, or the choice and anonymity of accessing our services as opposed to attending their regular general practice.

SHQ believes that it is essential we receive confirmation of an exemption before the stage 7 reform comes into effect as we seek to ensure continuity of care in sexual and reproductive health services via telehealth throughout our local community. This will not be possible unless access to the Medicare items continues, as SHQ will not be able to separately fund telehealth services.

I thank you for your urgent consideration regarding this critical matter of providing access to reproductive and sexual health services to the clients of SHQ. I would be pleased to provide any further information or discuss this matter in more detail.

 

Yours sincerely

Debra Barnes

Chief Executive Officer