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Thursday, 21 November 2013
Page: 1092

Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle) (09:48): Earlier this month I had the pleasure of attending the 10th anniversary celebration of the Hunter Medicare Local's GP Access After Hours program. It was particularly good to welcome back the founder of the program, Dr Arn Sprogis, and to acknowledge the contribution of the outgoing CEO, Mark Foster, who has taken up a new role as the medical director of the Awabakal Aboriginal medical service.

GP Access After Hours has enjoyed bipartisan support in our region, and I thank my Labor colleagues and the member for Paterson for their continued support. The program provides comprehensive after hours primary medical care for patients of the Hunter region, including my electorate of Newcastle. It has provided services to more than one million patients and is of particular importance for parents, giving them direct access to a GP for their children when they need it.

The Medicare Local's core purpose is simple: keeping people well and out of hospital, and the Hunter's program is a leader in New South Wales, with fewer hospital admissions in the region for acute conditions like gastroenteritis and ear, nose and throat infections. In the past 12 months, the after-hours service has managed 52,205 patients in its clinics, including more than 8,000 that had initially presented to hospital emergency departments.

Hunter Medicare Local continues to expand its services, and I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge just two of its other successful programs. The connecting care program targets chronic disease and is making fantastic connections with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to encourage earlier detection and better management of chronic disease, helping us to further close the gap. Hunter Medicare Local also delivers a primary mental health care program that has reached more than 3,000 patients in 2012-13, referring them to psychologists for some 15,000 sessions.

Hunter Medicare Local is a core component of Newcastle's primary healthcare delivery, and I am concerned for its future under this new government. Disjointed and confused messaging throughout the election campaign, where Medicare Locals were going to be shut, then they were under review, then they were not going to be shut, and now they may be just changing direction, has left patients, families and healthcare workers concerned for how primary health care will be delivered. The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association have called on the Minister for Health to come clean on the government's plans for the centres to allay public concerns.

Medicare Locals are doing exactly what they are designed to do. They are finding and addressing service gaps in the primary healthcare sector and keeping people out of hospital. Closure of the Hunter Medicare Local would place significant stress on our local hospitals. I call on the Minister for Health to pledge his support for our Medicare Locals and provide the certainty they deserve.