Concerns GPs are losing confidence treating chronic conditions in children

Young boy with doctor

Australian children with long-term medical conditions are being referred to paediatricians more and more by their general practitioners, sparking fears they are losing confidence in treating our little ones with complex and chronic conditions.

Concerns have also been raised that this new trend is adding to wait times and pressure on our already stretched hospitals.

Results from a survey of 250 GPs, published in the Australian Health Review, show almost 60 per cent admitted they were not comfortable caring for a child with a complex or chronic condition, such as asthma, migraines or behavioural problems.

Lead author Professor Gary Freed from theUniversity of Melbourne Centre for Health Policy told The Melbourne Newsroom the findings are in line with data showing the pressure our hospitals are facing.

Despite no growth in the number of children (kids under 18 years) living in Australia, The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne recorded a 25 per cent increase (10,000 visits) from 2010-2015 in new medical paediatric appointments.

More kids have chronic illnesses

Professor Freed says more Australian children than ever are living with a chronic illness, meaning the survey results are cause for concern.

“Australia has 1.5 million children aged 14 and under with at least one long-term medical condition, yet there’s been a sharp decline in extended consultations with GPs,” he told The Melbourne Newsroom.

“Extended consultations, which last above 20 minutes, are designed to assist in managing complex conditions. Extended consultations are absolutely necessary if these children are to receive adequate follow-up care from GPs, and the fact that these have dropped sharply suggests that shared care between GPs and specialists is not working.”

GPs need more paediatric training

Melbourne paediatric specialists revealed, in two separate surveys, they felt GPs were referring patients without a clear reason or past care information. They also revealed parent requests were usually driving referrals.

“This could be because some parents feel GPs don’t appreciate the gravity of their child’s condition or that the GPs themselves lack knowledge and confidence,” Professor Freed says.

“Either way, this is putting a strain on a system already affected by specialist shortages, and raises concerns that GPs aren’t equipped for the crucial role of determining which requests are justified in the child’s best interests.”

Professor Freed says the government and GP training bodies need to intervene.

“The relationship between primary and secondary care is being left to chance, because it falls between levels of government, even though we know the costs to the public purse of poor coordination are considerable,” he says.

“We need more paediatricians, but we also need more GPs trained specifically in paediatrics.”

(via The Melbourne Newsroom)

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