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Tuesday, 15 November 1983
Page: 2688


Ms MAYER —by leave-Since I joined this Parliament earlier this year I have been a member of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts. The medical fraud and overservicing report has been a very large part of the work that the Committee has done since then. I would like to draw the attention of members of the Parliament to the work which it still has to do. It is listed in the Finance minute as: Patient fraud; fraud associated with hospitals; fraud and overservicing associated with the prescription of pharmaceuticals; fraud and overservicing associated with pathology; unnecessary surgery; the possible strengthening of the legislation with respect to medical fraud; possible measures to reduce growth in the number of doctors; peer review mechanisms and the development of guidelines for the use of specific medical procedures; modification of the medical benefits system to reduce incentives for overservicing; revision of the Medical Benefits Schedule; and medical education. Those items obviously present the Committee with a good deal more work before the report is finally completed.

I would like to mention the items which are of great importance to the continuation of the system of improving medical services within this country. I make it quite plain to all those people who are concerned about the system that medical care is not an opportunity for people to acquire an extremely high income which is not to the benefit of the public purse. In that context, the finding on page 4 that the Committee is surprised at the relatively small number of specialist medical colleges and associations which have indicated their willingness to advise the Department of Health is one which continues to surprise me. The Committee has been open to advice and submission from every area of the medical profession in its attempt to make it quite plain that the medical profession, as such, is not under the microscope for fraud and overservicing. But the areas of the medical profession of which most people disapprove, that is, the people who represent the honest medical practitioners, should be willing to assist the Committee and the Department of Health in their inquiries. I bring this to the attention of the Parliament and hope that the members of the medical colleges and associations who have not yet offered their assistance to the Committee in developing recommendations which will help all of them in providing services properly to the community will be moved to do so fairly soon in respect of the further inquiries which the Committee will make.

In the area of medical education it seems very important that the notions of overservicing should be considered fairly carefully. A point has been made to the Committee that quite frequently young graduates in their anxiety to serve their patients well may possibly go over the line from good servicing to overservicing. It is a function of medical education to advise students and young graduates about the practices which they may pursue. I believe that the Committee will be making recommendations to that effect fairly strongly in the next year.

We already have a fairly solid growth in the number of doctors. It is becoming a matter of concern to the community that we have more doctors than is necessary to serve the community. We would like to find out whether that is so, or whether it is simply a matter of supposition. Unnecessary surgery is a subject which has been raised so many times. It has created so much anxiety in the community that we would like to have some considerable advice about that subject because it does seem to be a matter of opinion. When one compares practices in Australia with practices elsewhere there is some reason to be concerned about that matter. However, I recommend the report to honourable members. As the previous speaker, the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly), has said, the report has covered many years of work by many people, and the work continues. I hope at the end of the work we will have a better medical system in this country.