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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 1712

Senator REID(10.33) —Tonight I wish to raise a matter that has been drawn to my attention by one of my constituents. He wrote to Dr Blewett as the matter relates to the operation of health centres in the Australian Capital Territory. My constituent has told me that on 26 April he required the services of the Kippax Health Centre for his eight-year-old daughter. At 1.20 p.m. he attempted to make an appointment and was told that it was lunch-time and that he had better ring back after 2 o'clock. He did this and was told by the receptionist that there was no possibility of obtaining an appointment that day and that if he felt it necessary to seek medical treatment for his daughter he should go to the Calvary Hospital or the Royal Canberra Hospital.

He then attempted to ring the Department of Health and was told that the matter was not really its responsibility and he should contact the Health Authority. He did and discussed the matter with Mr Foskett of the Authority, who, as my constituent has said, was most understanding and offered to contact the Kippax Health Centre and investigate the situation. At 4.15 p.m. he was contacted by the administrator of the Kippax Health Centre, who told him of her difficulties at the centre. She apologised for what she thought was a misunderstanding, but still was not able to give him an appointment for his daughter at the Health Centre that day. My constituent, in his letter, said:

Sir, with this response from my Health Centre, I have absolutely no faith in the services your Department offer and I wonder why taxpayers are forced to support a medical system which is unable to cope with demand. There was no attempt made by anyone in the Health Centre or Commission to try and obtain medical treatment through another Health Centre.

As a taxpayer, I would like to know why I am forced to pay 1 per cent of my salary for a service which is unable to provide just that-SERVICE-when needed.

He also queried why it is that, of the five medical practitioners at the Kippax Health Centre, four are private practitioners renting premises from the Capital Territory Health Authority and only one is an employee of the Authority.

My personal opinion is that the health centres are exceedingly costly. I question whether they are needed in a community such as this where there are, in fact, plenty of doctors. The point I make is that if they are to exist they ought to be efficient and they ought to provide the service for which they were intended. I also find it remarkable that a health centre in Canberra was too busy to see another patient on a particular day on the basis of the figures I have seen of the number of patients the doctors see in a day. Maybe 26 April was exceptional. It is quite clear that for some reason the centre just is not functioning the way it is supposed to. Given the cost, I think we are entitled to ask the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) to look into the matter.

We are faced with the situation that the Capital Territory Health Commission has been abolished. An interim Health Authority exists at present. It is a little the same as a few other things in Canberra. Self-government is promised and promised and never quite happens. We are faced with uncertainty in that area. Last week we were told that the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority is to be abolished and its functions separated, but we still do not know what will happen in that area. The Australian Capital Territory Council of Social Service has been critical of the administration of the Australian Capital Territory, as have certain interests in the private sector. I think this example of the way the Health Centre at Kippax is functioning gives further reason for concern as to how the services that are supposed to be being provided are in fact being provided. As I have said, the letter was sent to me by Mr Soustal. It was written by him and sent to the Minister for Health. I hope the Minister will look into the matter because I think the cost of the health centres gives reason for concern.