I am
Show me:
Show me:
People stop seeing GPs for chronic illnesses: new MBS data reveal nearly 100,000 fewer visits
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

People stop seeing GPs for chronic illnesses: new MBS data reveal nearly 100,000 fewer visits

Media Release - 20 May 2020

Tens of thousands of Australians with chronic diseases are putting themselves at risk by missing vital visits to their GP and skipping potentially life-saving cholesterol tests to manage and prevent heart disease.

New data from the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) reveals a 10 per cent drop in GP visits for the management of chronic disease in March 2020, equating to 96,000 less visits compared to the same time last year. 

Alongside the impact of COVID-19 on the fall in chronic disease visits, pathology data from NSW reveal a 28 per cent drop in cholesterol tests being processed in March compared to the same time in February 2020.

Heart Foundation Chief Medical Adviser, cardiologist Professor Garry Jennings, said the data also showed an 18 per cent drop in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Checks in March 2020 compared to the same time last year. 

“These are potentially life-saving check-ups, tests and monitoring that people are missing out on,” Professor Jennings said.

“We know that nearly one in two Australians live with one or more chronic conditions and more than four million of these people live with cardiovascular disease.  

“A doubling of the number of calls to our Helpline compared to the same time last year tells us that many Australians living with heart disease are worried about their risk of COVID-19 complications, especially as restrictions ease.

“Our message is very clear – it is vital that you continue to monitor your heart health and maintain your regular medical care, and there are options for you to do this safely via telehealth or in person.
“What we don’t want to see is a stalling of the progress we have made in Australia in reducing preventable deaths caused by chronic diseases.”

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RACGP) President Dr Harry Nespolon said the new data was concerning and urged patients not to put off important medical appointments and tests.

“It’s never been easier to access your GP – with consultations now available by telephone or videoconferencing, as well as in person. For most people, a phone or video consultation with their GP will be suitable, but for those patients who still need to see their GP in person, we’re reminding them that it is safe to do so given the infection control processes in place,” said Dr Nespolon.

Professor Jennings said the drop in lipid tests, including for LDL and HDL cholesterol, were particularly concerning as cholesterol needs to be routinely measured.

“There are rarely any signs or symptoms attributed to changes in cholesterol levels, yet left undetected and untreated, these changes can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.”  

Professor Jennings said that while the MBS data showed GPs had claimed more than one million Telehealth items in March 2020, only a small proportion of GP visits for the management of chronic disease were delivered via Telehealth.

“It’s reassuring to see that telehealth has been taken up by a higher proportion of older Australians, aligning well with the group of people we know are more likely to have multiple chronic conditions and be at higher risk of COVID-19 complications.

“But we want to see people at risk of or living with heart disease continue to see their GP about managing their condition, whether it be by telehealth or if needed, face to face.”

The MBS data showed an increase in shorter GP visits of less than 20 minutes, compared to the same time last year, which is likely a reflection of increased flu vaccinations.

Telehealth has helped slightly bridge the gap for longer GP consults of more than 20 minutes, which saw a nine per cent drop compared to March 2019. 

The Heart Foundation is one of 22 organisations coming together in the Continuity of Care Collaboration (CCC) which is an Australian-first collaboration of peak bodies, industry and healthcare organisations reinforcing the importance for people to continue to maintain their regular medical care.

The group formed due to mounting concerns that Australians are delaying or not maintaining their regular doctor visits for existing chronic conditions due to fears of contracting COVID-19 or burdening the health system.

Media enquiries

Fleur Jacobs, Senior National Media Adviser
M: 0427 591 638 E: fleur.jacobs@heartfoundation.org.au

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation programs and resources to support your recovery....

Heart Healthy Dinner Plan

Heart Healthy Dinner Plan

Heart Healthy Dinner Plan

Sign up now and discover delicious, easy to follow dinner recipes. Plus shopping lists, tips and other helpful information to make healthy eating easy. ...

Help Keep families together this Christmas

Help Keep families together this Christmas

Help Keep families together this Christmas

Together, we can make heart disease history. Donate today to help fund ground-breaking heart research and keep families together this Christmas. ...

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

There is no single cause for any one heart condition, but there are risk factors that increase your chance of developing one. ...

Support and resources for health care professionals

Support and resources for health care professionals

Support and resources for health care professionals

Our range of clinical and patient support resources are available for you to use in your daily practice....

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Visit the St Vincents Hospital NSW and Heart Foundation Aboriginal heart health website for more information...

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Join the fight against Australia’s biggest killer by supporting the Heart Foundation.  ...

Clinical Guidelines

Clinical Guidelines

Clinical Guidelines

Full list of clinical guidlines and references for CVD, heart failure, ACS, hypertension, atrial fibrillation, SCAD and RHD...

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Join the Heart Foundation community. Together, we can make a real difference for Australian hearts. ...

Healthy eating to protect your heart

Healthy eating to protect your heart

Healthy eating to protect your heart

What does a heart-friendly diet look like?...

9 food and heart health myths, busted

9 food and heart health myths, busted

9 food and heart health myths, busted

Let’s dive into nine common food and health myths and the facts behind them....

Heart Foundation supports Wollongong City Council’s draft 10-year cycling strategy

Heart Foundation supports Wollongong City Council’s draft 10-year cycling strategy

Heart Foundation supports Wollongong City Council’s draft 10-year cycling strategy

Media Release - 30 June 2020 ...

Blood cholesterol

Blood cholesterol

Blood cholesterol

Keeping your blood cholesterol at a healthy level can help you reduce your risk of heart disease and other serious conditions. ...

Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance

Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance

Alliance with chronic disease prevention stakeholders...

Heart failure resources for patients

Heart failure resources for patients

Educate your patients on everything they need to know about heart failure and managing their condition. ...

Supporting Young Hearts Program

Supporting Young Hearts Program

Information and resources for health professionals who are treating patients between 18 - 40 years of age....

Heart Foundation Walking

Heart Foundation Walking

Heart Foundation Walking

Learn more about Heart Foundation Walking and find your local walking group....

Physical activity after a heart attack

Physical activity after a heart attack

Physical activity after a heart attack

Discover what you need to know about being active after a heart attack....

Healthy Bowl Recipes

Healthy Bowl Recipes

Healthy Bowl Recipes

Find more heart healthy bowl recipes in our Bowl Foods recipe booklet...

Blood pressure and your heart

Blood pressure and your heart

Blood pressure and your heart

Understand blood pressure and how it can impact your heart health....

Dairy and your heart health

Dairy and your heart health

Dairy and your heart health

Not all dairy products are equal. Discover different types of dairy foods and their impact on heart health....

Healthy Food Access Tasmania

Healthy Food Access Tasmania

Healthy Food Access Tasmania

We've been working on several projects with local governments across Tasmania, big and small....

Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD)

Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD)

Clinical information and links to SCAD resources....

Our supporters 

Our supporters 

Our supporters 

Working together to save Australian hearts...

Acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease

Acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease

The Australian Guideline for Prevention, Diagnosis and Management of Acute Rheumatic Fever and Rheumatic Heart Disease (2nd Edition)​....

Life changing research currently underway

Life changing research currently underway

Life changing research currently underway

Search our current researcher's and the ground breaking research being undertaken....

Smoking and tobacco regulation

Smoking and tobacco regulation

There are still more than 15,000 deaths caused by smoking every year....

Heart disease and pregnancy

Heart disease and pregnancy

Heart disease and pregnancy

Pregnancy is often referred to as the “ultimate stress test” for the body....

Endorsement of externally developed clinical resources

Endorsement of externally developed clinical resources

Heart procedures and devices

Heart procedures and devices

Heart procedures and devices

If you have a heart condition, your doctor may recommend treatment or procedures...