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The closure of the Labor-initiated After Hours GP Helpline, managed by the government’s HealthDirect scheme, will help fund a new payment model aimed at encouraging GPs to treat patients outside of business hours.

Announced by Health Minister Sussan Ley on 22 May, the new model will encourage practices to apply for a Practice Incentives Programme (PIP) after-hours incentive from the Federal Government.

The new model will “build on existing infrastructure and provide general practices with a nationally consistent, streamlined, less administratively burdensome way to receive funding for delivering after hours services”.

The PIP After Hours Incentive will be based on a practice's Standardised Whole Patient Equivalent (SWPE). It will operate from 1 July when the after-hours helpline is due to be mothballed, much to the ire of the party that created it in 2011.

ALP Shadow Health Minister Catherine King, the former parliamentary secretary for health, said 200,000-plus calls were made last year to the helpline, which is triaged by nurses, and more than half a million since it began.

“Access to after-hours primary health care was an issue that was consistently raised with me during my GP consultations,” Minister Ley said.

Development of the new PIP after-hours incentive was based on feedback from doctors and other stakeholders through the independent After Hours Primary Health Care Review, led by Professor Claire Jackson, and the PIP Advisory Group. 

Another key recommendation, also accepted, was the replacing of Medicare Locals with Primary Health Networks that will work with key stakeholders to plan, coordinate and support population based after-hours health services, focusing on addressing gaps in after-hours service provision, 'at risk' populations and improved service integration.

The PIP after-hours incentive is considered to offer the most appropriate and effective delivery of after-hours services.

“The PIP after-hours incentive will give General Practices positive support for ensuring that their patients have access to quality after-hours care,” the Minister added. 

“The Abbott Government has committed more than $98.8 million in 2015-16 for this new payment to boost after-hours care options for Australian patients.

“Under these new arrangements, patients will be able to easily find out what after-hours services are available, including services provided by arrangement outside of the patient’s usual general practice.”

According to the Minister, after-hours services “will be simpler to find as all practices will be required to effectively communicate their after-hours access arrangements to patients; as well as register up-to-date details of their after-hours arrangements in the National Health Service Directory.” 

The new incentive payment has five separate levels that will “assist patients to receive the right care, at the right place, at the right time, regardless of the size of their usual practice”.

Further details about the payment levels can be found on the Health Department's website

Specific eligibility requirements for each payment level will be provided in the PIP after-hours incentive guidelines due for release shortly.