Cost a barrier for GP visits, scripts

THE Hunter scores some of Australia’s poorest ratings in a national health report tracking the prevalence of chronic disease and cost barriers to health care in 2011-12.

Just over half (53 per cent) of people living in the Hunter Medicare Local catchment area reported having a long-term health condition*.

One in 10 said they delayed visiting a medical specialist, or filling out a script, due to cost, and 21 per cent reported delaying a visit to a dentist or dental hygienist due to cost.

Nine per cent did not see, or delayed seeing a GP due to cost.

The new data is contained in the latest National Health Performance Authority report, released today, titled Healthy Communities: Australians’ experiences with access to health care in 2011-12.

Author Diane Watson said the report showed regions where people had poorer average health were not receiving a larger share of healthcare services.

“Parts of the country where people have the poorest health are no more likely to face reduced waiting times for medical specialists or lower cost barriers to visit a GP, dentist, or specialist,” Dr Watson said.

The report is the first comprehensive national attempt to examine how well local populations’ access to health services aligns with health needs, and is based on Medicare statistics and survey data from almost 27,000 Australian adults.

It is accompanied by a website, which allows easy access to comparable health information for each local population covered by 61 Medicare Locals around Australia.

The new data reveals that Hunter residents fare worse than their peers in comparable regions in several categories.

Hunter residents are more likely to wait “longer than acceptable” to see a medical specialist than people living in comparable regions at 23 per cent, against a national range of 16-35 per cent.

And Hunter residents make fewer trips to their local doctor than residents in comparable regions, making an average of five GP visits per person last year.

Residents of the Nepean-Blue Mountains Medicare Local catchment made the highest number of GP visits among comparable regions, at 6.7 visits per person.

* Long-term health conditions included arthritis or osteoporosis, asthma, cancer, diabetes, heart or circulatory condition, mental illness, long-term injury, or any other long-term condition that had lasted, or was likely to last, six months or more.