GP clinics intending to charge for consultations to administer COVID-19 vaccines would be "in breach", federal health minister Greg Hunt says.
"Certainly, the vaccines must be bulk billed," Mr Hunt said at a doorstop in Canberra on Monday.
"And so if anybody were charging for a consultation, that would be a breach."
He said clinics charging for a consultation in advance of the vaccine to assess the patient's eligibility for the phase 1b rollout would "clearly be in breach of it."
Mr Hunt said practices themselves would determine which patients they were able to serve, in response to concerns some GP clinics were advising they would only take bookings from existing patients.
"Some practices have said they will take all comers. The GP vaccination clinics, which have been doing the testing, what are known as respiratory clinics but will now be vaccination clinics, they will take everybody, and that's very, very important," the health minister said.
"So who a practice takes is a matter for a general practice. But as to the fact that has to be bulk billed, it does have to be bulk billed."
Central Victorians seeking to book COVID-19 vaccinations as part of the next rollout phase have been met with confusion, and a number of clinics have been inundated with calls.
Castlemaine resident David Wybar was told only existing patients would be offered bookings when he called the local GP clinic listed as administering vaccines from the first week of the phase 1b rollout.
"They said get in touch with your own clinic," Mr Wybar said.
He called not only his own clinic but several others, as well as the National Coronavirus and COVID-19 Vaccination Helpline.
"No-one knows what's going on," Mr Wybar said.
Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters said people who had sought to make bookings had contacted her office with complaints.
They included being told clinics had yet to receive vaccines, so could not take appointments; being told clinics were only taking bookings from existing patients; and clinics advising patients they would have to pay for a number of consultations with their doctors to get vaccinated.
Ms Chesters believed a clinic had advised a caller they would have to pay for a consultation to assess their eligibility to receive the vaccine, as well as paying for the consultations during which the vaccine would be administered.
She said the people contacting her office had been angry, upset and confused, and she was seeking clarification about their concerns.
The Member for Bendigo was aware of a number of clinics that had been inundated with calls.
"This is a mess created by the federal government," Ms Chesters said.
She said people had been encouraged to start calling clinics about getting vaccinated, but it appeared they were being encouraged to do so before clinics were prepared.
"I really feel for the receptionists and medical staff working in these clinics today," Ms Chesters said.
One of the directors of Castlemaine's Lyttleton Street Medical Clinic, Dr Dominic Blanks, said all three of the town's GP clinics were registered for the phase 1b rollout.
But the Lyttleton Street Medical Clinic was the only one listed as administering the vaccines from the first week of the phase 1b rollout in Castlemaine.
Dr Blanks was unsure why the other two clinics had not also been listed.
He said phones at the Lyttleton Street Medical Clinic had been ringing off the hook.
Dr Blanks said the clinic had been advising patients of the other two clinics to go back to their usual GP in part to ensure continuity of care.
"We were expecting patients of the other two clinics to be rolled out at exactly the same time," he said.
He said the Lyttleton Street Medical Clinic would be taking new patients for the vaccine, but it was most appropriate that patients from the other two clinics went there if vaccines were available at those clinics.
Dr Blanks said the Lyttleton Street Medical Clinic would not be prioritising its existing patients for vaccinations.
"Access equity is our priority as well," he said.
Asked about the degree of detail provided by the government ahead of the next phase of vaccinations, Dr Blanks said the clinic would have preferred if there had been more information available in a clear and simpler form.
Health minister Greg Hunt suggested he was surprised people had been experiencing difficulties with booking appointments, as put to him during an interview on 3AW this morning.
"If there are any issues, please send them through to, to my office. But the list of clinics on health.gov.au," Mr Hunt said.
He said every clinic listed was only listed because they had made and had confirmed an order.
"It's only the larger ones that are commencing in week one. And then the respiratory clinics will have between 400 to 1200 or 2000 doses per week," Mr Hunt said, in response to a 3AW caller's experiences.
"And on top of that, the states will also have theirs. So, be calm this morning. This is a process that's going to take some months."
More than 1000 Australian general practices are expected to join the vaccination program from March 22.
The health department expects services to "progressively increase in number to more than 4000 by the end of April".
To check your eligibility for phase 1b of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout, click here.
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