GP Access After Hours is the culmination of many years hard work by the Hunter Urban Division of General Practice, now trading as Hunter Urban Medicare Local.
In 1996 the After Hours Care Project recommended the establishment of a regional system of after hours care. In 1999 the first part of the system, the Maitland After Hours GP Service (MAGS) was established. After almost four years of successful operation of MAGS, and extended negotiations, the $16.2 million contract for establishment of the regional after hours service was signed in February 2003. A fast and furious four months of preparation followed to recruit the management team, service staff and GPs, establish the clinics and call centre facilities, and set up the IM&T and other support systems.
The successful launch of GP Access After Hours (GPAAH) on July 1 2003 – fully operational and on schedule – was a major achievement. In its first two and a half years of operation, more than 100,000 patients were seen at its five GP clinics and 130,000 patients were assisted by the telephone advice line.
More than 90% of clinic patients are seen within 30 minutes of their scheduled appointment. In the three emergency departments with GP clinics on the hospital site, reductions in less urgent workload during clinic hours have ranged from 20-60%. Another major achievement is that, despite operating in an area of significant GP workforce shortage, there are now 250 GPs working in the service with GPs continuing to join. Meanwhile, GP participation in after hours care, and patient access to services, is declining nationally.
The service also has strong support from the community, reflected in feedback and survey results from patients, advisory groups and community groups. GP Access After Hours (GPAAH) is a major asset to the more than 400,000 Hunter population it serves. Based on an innovative pooled funding model, the service is a working example of successful Medicare reform. It has solved the barrier of the State-Commonwealth funding split at the regional level, delivering much improved access to high quality after hours care for the community for a marginal increase in cost. This funding model is crucial to the success of GPAAH.
GPAAH is now very much "part of the furniture" of the health system in the Hunter region. More than a third of the local population has accessed after hours care in GPAAH or prior to that in MAGS. The activity and performance of GPAAH have been impressive by national and international standards.