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Thursday, 21 June 2012
Page: 7540


Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (09:42): I would like to table a petition from my constituents to the House of Representatives which has been submitted to the petitions committee and deemed to be in order.

The petition read as follows—

To the Honourable The Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives

This petition of concerned certain citizens of Australia draws to the attention of the House:

the severe shortage of general practitioners of medicine in Proserpine and the Whitsundays;

the unsustainable situation of the limited number of general practitioners in Proserpine and the Whitsundays being overworked, in some instances regularly attending to patients for up to 12 hours a day or more;

the resultant pressure being placed on the taxpayer-funded public health system; a the fact that another general practitioner has left the district in early 2012 which further exacerbates the problem; and

the fact that many medical centres in Proserpine and the Whitsundays have advertised extensively and repeatedly for Australian general practitioners without any applicants responding to those job offers.

We therefore ask the House to take every possible action to address the shortage of doctors in Proserpine and the Whitsundays, and in particular allow a greater allocation of Medicare Provider Numbers to foreign-trained general practitioners in the district and offer greater incentives for Australian general practitioners to relocate and work in rural areas such as Proserpine and the Whitsundays.

from 1,100 citizens

Petition received.

The 1,100 signatories on this petition have very real concerns for the future of health services in the Whitsundays. Petitioners draw attention to the severe shortage of GPs in Proserpine and the Whitsundays, the unsustainable situation of the limited number of GPs being overworked and in some cases attending to patients for up to 12 hours a day or more—I know that happens sometimes six days a week; the resultant pressure being placed on the taxpayer funded health system; and the fact that another GP left the district in early 2012. Since this petition was brought to me, another GP has left the region. Many medical centres in Proserpine and the Whitsundays have advertised extensively and repeatedly for Australian GPs without any success. That last point is strange because the Whitsundays is a tourist destination, but Airlie Beach does not have the facilities that are available in capital cities which makes it difficult to find long-term residents. I had one place that advertised for 18 months and they could not find one home-grown doctor. What they can find are foreign-trained doctors who are willing to work in the Whitsundays. But to make this a viable option, it is essential these doctors be allocated a Medicare number and therein lies the problem. A number of practices in the Whitsundays have been applying for more foreign-trained doctors but the Whitsundays does not qualify for more Medicare provider numbers because there are other more remote regions which are deemed to be in greater need. By the time it becomes desperate enough, it is actually going to be too late.

I have a message from Doctor Michael McFall, who owns and operates the Cannonvale Medical Centre. He says:

We currently have two doctors working and one of them is leaving. She is a British doctor and an IMG. We cannot even get the Department of Health and Ageing to provide us a replacement doctor for this doctor leaving. This would leave this centre at the end of August with one doctor left, myself. If we are left with just one doctor we will be forced to close this ... practice.

This practice services 5,000 people in the Whitsundays, with another 2,000 wanting to get on the books.

I could point to Dr El-Baky, of the 121 Medical Centre, also in Cannonvale, who says that it is no longer humanly possible to continue working at the rate that he and his colleagues have been for the past number of years. He needs another doctor as well to alleviate the pressure. He says that the answer to the shortage lies with the federal government's refusal to relax certain laws that allow overseas practitioners to get Medicare provider numbers.

I agree with this and I really do urge the government, on behalf of my constituents, to consider the implications of the failure to act on these issues. I ask the government, on behalf of these petitioners, to allow greater allocation of Medicare provider numbers to foreign trained doctors in this region and provide greater incentives for Australian doctors to relocate to areas like this.