One in 10 parents do not trust GPs with their child’s healthcare: survey

Some parents do not trust GPs to manage their child’s health needs, and many GPs themselves are not confident treating chronic illnesses in children, research suggests.

As Melbourne hospitals continue to be overwhelmed by large numbers of children, including some with minor problems, a survey of 600 parents has found close to one in 10 are not confident in a GP’s ability to care for their child.

Some parents lack confidence in GPs to care for children.
Some parents lack confidence in GPs to care for children.CREDIT:KIM-CHERIE DAVIDSON

The survey of parents whose children were receiving specialist care at the Royal Children’s and Monash Children’s hospitals in 2014 and 2015 found only 45 per cent were “completely confident” in their child’s GP to provide general paediatric care.

While nine out of 10 parents said their child had a regular GP, one third said a GP “rarely” or “never” co-ordinated the care of their child with other specialist doctors. Three quarters said a GP would give their child a referral to see a paediatrician whenever they asked for one.

Writing about the survey in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, researchers questioned whether GPs were becoming less comfortable with children due to an increased focus on chronic diseases among Australia’s ageing population.

They said parental confidence in GPs was important because it could affect where parents took their children for healthcare, and they urged GPs to address concerns about their abilities.

The researchers said demand for specialist paediatric care had soared 45 per cent in the five years to 2013 at the Royal Children’s Hospital. A survey of specialists at the hospital recently found that they were receiving referrals for conditions that they believed GPs should be able to manage.

The lead author of the research, Professor Gary Freed from Melbourne University, has previously produced research on trends in paediatric care in Australia, showing that many parents are bypassing GPs to take their children to emergency departments for minor problems.

He has also shown that over the past decade, children have been making up a diminishing proportion of visits to GPs and the number of extended GP consultations for children has fallen. This is despite an increasing number of children living in Australia and growth in the number surviving with chronic illnesses.

A separate survey of GPs published recently found that about 60 per cent referred a child to a specialist because they did not feel comfortable caring for children with chronic and complex condition such as migraines or asthma. One in four said they referred because they had insufficient time to manage the child.

President of the Royal Australian College of GPs Bastian Seidel said Professor Freed’s research methodology was not strong enough to create doubt about GPs’ confidence and competence in paediatric care. He said the survey of parents was so small and specific to Victoria, its findings could not apply to other parts of Australia.

President of the Victorian branch of the Australian Medical Association Dr Lorraine Baker said the research was “important” and suggested some parents may not know enough about GPs’ work in children’s health.

“We remind the public that GPs are highly-skilled doctors – comprehensively trained across all areas of medicine,” she said.

However, Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy said GPs should be supported to develop more skills in paediatric care.

“Our GPs do a wonderful job but we know they need to be supported to develop the skills they need in paediatric care to provide reassurance to parents and understand the different thresholds for referrals,” she said.

Ms Hennessy also took aim at the Commonwealth for freezing the indexation of Medicare rebates for GPs – a move GPs say is causing them to charge more patients out-of-pocket fees.

“Cutting funding to GPs means they have less time to spend with children and their families and get to the underlying reason or issue that is a cause for concern,” Ms Hennessy said.