BENDIGO'S shortage of general practitioners is likely to have caused a 45 per cent rise in potentially preventable hospital admissions in the area within a year, a health professional has warned.
An extra 1000 Bendigo residents were potentially preventably admitted to hospital in 2017-18, compared to the previous year.
It represents a rise of 45 per cent. Population rose two per cent in the same period.
Bendigo Community Health Services director of Primary Health Care Services Graem Kelly said the city's healthcare system was buckling under the pressure of a shortage of general practitioners.
He warned that Australia's increased life expectancy could be at threat because of a failure to appropriately manage health at the right level.
Health professionals have previously warned Bendigo's patients were 'dramatically at risk' as they struggled to access doctors appointments.
Mr Kelly said addressing the doctor shortage across Bendigo would lead to improved health outcomes and reduced hospital admissions.
He warned lives were being put at risk by the shortage of primary health care in the community.
The new Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data shows hospital admissions that could possibly have been prevented by timely and adequate health care in the community.
These potentially preventable admissions are proxy measure of primary care effectiveness.
About 49,000 people were admitted to Bendigo Health in 2017-18 according to the hospital's annual report.
Seven per cent of these may have been preventable, based on the AIHW data.
Mr Kelly said a growing older population put extra pressure on medical resources, while the general practice workforce was aging.
He said a growing number of chronic conditions in the community were also leading to increasing morbidity.
Mr Kelly said it was likely the number of people being admitted to hospital potentially preventably had increased further since 2017-18 as the GP shortage got worse.
"The system in the Bendigo region is buckling under the pressure," Mr Kelly said.
"We can see people's lives are being put at risk. We've all got to hold our hand up and say what can we do to address this?"
Mr Kelly said higher admissions to hospital were an expensive means to maintain general good health.
He said hospitalisation shifted the cost of health care from the Medicare funded general practice services to the majority state funded hospitals.
More investment was needed in primary care such as GPs, better management of chronic disease, pain, and preventative screening, was needed to reduce the number of people being admitted to hospitals preventably, Mr Kelly said.
Murray Primary Health Network chief executive Matt Jones said a combination of factors was likely to have led to the increase in potentially preventable hospitalisations.
He said the community's health needs were increasing, and it was a challenge to recruit and retain general practitioners.
"People will present to Bendigo Health because they're seeking health care," Mr Jones said.
"We know that one of the downstream results in a lack of access to primary care services is a greater impact on acute services and hospital services in a community."
Mr Jones said the Murray Primary Health network was working to increase focus on prevention, to give people access to services, and to strengthen interactions between acute and primary health services.
He said the PHN was also trying to address structural challenges making it difficult to recruit and retain GPs in rural areas.
The Department of Health was approached for comment on this piece.
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