Gunnedah doctor Chris Gittoes has scrapped his plan to introduce a queue-jumping patients fee but another local GP has revealed he’s begun selling his own version of the controversial Preventative Health Care Plans initiative to patients in person.
The latest doctor to offer the plan is, like Dr Gittoes, based at the recently opened Gunnedah Rural Health Centre, which is home to five doctors and yesterday revealed a sixth medico was expected to join.
The weekend news that revealed Dr Gittoes had written to locals offering them priority listing as regular patients on his books for an up-front fee, prompted controversy and debate.
But yesterday Dr Gittoes informed the GRHC board that he’d decided to abandon the initiative and apologised for any misunderstandings that might have occurred.
However it is understood that a fellow GP, Dr Ken Adams has already been pursuing a similar course of action, and even sold preventative health care plans to a number of patients. Dr Adams, however, has only approached patients in person and has not written a letter promoting the concept.
Dr Gittoes likened his offer to a service schedule for a new or used car, which began with a comprehensive overview of current mechanical (health) and risk factors and then required regular check-ups over the life of the car (body).
A media storm erupted however, when a patient sent the letter on to The Sydney Morning Herald, claiming Dr Gittoes was selling the right to jump the queue for an up-front fee of $140.
The issue lay in the fact that Medicare does not recognise or subsidise a GP management plan specific for a chronic disease, so patients would have to foot the entire bill themselves.
A regular 15-minute consultation with Dr Gittoes costs $69.00 less Medicare rebates, but Dr Gittoes would charge $140 to develop the Preventative Healthcare Plan, which he told the NVI, would include a longer consultation and take well over an hour to complete.
Many in the community have said the plan was cheap at the price, especially if it meant being able to get in to see a regular doctor, but others, particularly those who donated to see the health centre built, were outraged at a plan that would give priority to people who could afford to pay for it.
“In hindsight I fully understand that the content of my original letter was wrong and I sincerely apologise to anyone who perceived any disadvantage as this was never intended,” Dr Gittoes told media yesterday.
Board chairwoman Penny Crawford welcomed the decision and said the board looked forward to working with all GPs at the centre towards providing affordable and accessible health care in line with its GP Super Clinic objectives.
Ms Crawford said the board was keen to work with all GPs in a co-ordinated approach to planning and implementing preventative health care measures at the centre.
“It is unfortunate that what would normally have been an internal operational discussion about how programs are introduced and what form they should take, has been blown into a major media event,” she said.