ARARAT - Grampians Medicare Local will cease to function and the future of 13 employees at its Ararat office remains unclear after the Federal Government revealed the extent of cuts contained in last Tuesday night's Federal Budget.
The closure will be an undoubted blow to the provision of targeted healthcare services across the region when Department of Health funding for the organisation ends as of July 2015.
The 2014/15 Federal Budget outlined that all 61 Medicare Locals will close and be replaced by a smaller number of Primary Health Networks by June 2015.
Grampians Medicare Local currently employs 65 staff, services more than 200,000 residents living from Ballan to the South Australian border and has offices in Ararat, Ballarat and Horsham.
Chief executive officer Andrew McPherson, said it is an anxious time for staff, however, the organisation remains committed to supporting GPs, primary health care workers and health services to ensure the best healthcare is provided throughout the transition period and beyond.
"We knew this was a possibility but it is still disappointing and a shock when you see it in black and white," he said.
"There's no doubt these changes are going to make it difficult to be localised but we will be endeavouring to ensure the delivery of services and assistance to the best of our ability for regional and rural Australia."
Mr McPherson said Grampians Medicare Local had overseen several positive outcomes since its inception in 2012 as part of the national health reform from the merging of Divisions of General Practice.
"We are extremely proud of what we have already achieved in our region," Mr McPherson said.
Some of these achievements include assisting general practice through 354 practice visits, providing local secure care coordination of patients after hours, and coordinating quality education for primary care health professionals with 180 professional development events attended by over 2600 healthcare professionals," he said.
"The past year has also seen the establishment of headspace in Ballarat and the delivery of clinical mental health services throughout the region, assisting Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders living with chronic disease and working in the areas of telehealth and eHealth to improve the health needs in our region.
"The importance of targeted healthcare that considers the diverse needs of local communities has been an integral part of our focus to date. Our Community Needs Analysis identified extremely concerning health statistics for the Grampians region, including the highest rate of respiratory disease in Australia and high avoidable death rates from conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer."
The Federal Budget has outlined that Primary Health Networks will be established in early 2015 following a tender process at the end of the year, and aligned with local hospitals.
The final number of Primary Health Care Networks is unknown but there will be fewer than the current 61 National Medicare Locals.
"We are pleased to see that general practice and primary health care continue to be seen as an important part of the health agenda and once we get a clearer picture we will be able to explore the avenues open to us, including, whether we can continue as an independent organisation delivering services for the Primary Health Network or tendering to become a Primary Health Network," Mr McPherson said.
In the meantime, Grampians Medicare Local will continue to coordinate and deliver valued health services for the local community as it prepares for the transition of those services into the new Primary Health Network.