WA primary healthcare nurse practitioners say Medicare rebates must rise

Communities across regional Western Australia are having to self-fund visits from nurse practitioners, arguing Medicare rebates are too low to attract full-time medical staff.

With no full-time doctor in Westonia, 300km east of Perth, nurse practitioner Laura Black visits weekly, providing diagnoses, medical prescriptions and specialist referrals.

But her funding from the WA Primary Health Alliance is set to run out next month, leaving the future of her role uncertain.

“To rely on the Medicare rebates for funding my role is not an option,” she said.

“[It’s] not enough money.”

She said the local shire had looked to the community in a bid to fund the position.

“We are actually charging patients a $20 fee for each consultation that I have and that’s all going to go into a fund,” she said.

Ms Black’s role is easily justified but the struggle is finding the right source of funding to continue her service.(ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Bridget Herrmann)

Westonia councilor Karin Day said the shire was looking at various government and other funding options to work out a solution.

“We’re sort of at a crunch time now where we’re really talking to everybody trying to pull together more of a long-term solution,” she said.

“We can easily justify Laura’s work here in our community, but we just need to find the right bucket of money to keep this service going.”

In the Pilbara, Karratha Central Healthcare CEO Beverley Menezes said she was looking at different community sources to support employing a nurse practitioner for the clinic.

She said the charity clinic previously employed nurse practitioners but when funding dried up the roles became unaffordable.

Dark haired woman in blue top sits at desk
Ms Menezes is seeking help from Karratha businesses to employ nurse practitioners.(ABC Pilbara: Amelia Searson)

“Once we have a viable pilot ready to roll out, we’ll be seeking support not only from all levels of government, but also major players in the industry and other major players in the Pilbara,” she said.

“The Medicare rebate alone would be insufficient for us.”

‘A huge problem’

The Medicare Benefits Schedule lists a benefit of $18.85 for a broad consultation with a nurse practitioner lasting less than 20 minutes.

It lists a $39.75 rebate for a similar broad consultation with a general practitioner lasting less than 20 minutes.

Woman attends to patient in hospital bed
A request for more Medicare funding has been made by the Australian College of Nurse Practitioners West Australia.(ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Sam McManus)

Australian College of Nurse Practitioners West Australian chair Adam McCavery said it was a barrier to the professionals working in primary healthcare.

“To provide an appropriate level of primary health care, our current Medicare rebates are not sustainable and not achievable, in fact, in many places,” he said.

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