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Monday, 7 November 2005
Page: 148

Ms KATE ELLIS (10:30 PM) —Tonight I rise to speak on the shortage of general practitioners in our communities. This is a health crisis, and it is no longer just confined to rural and regional Australia. The GP shortage that has plagued country areas in Australia is now being felt throughout both inner and outer metropolitan areas, and it is an issue that is hitting the communities within my electorate hard.

General practitioners have played a pivotal role in primary care for decades. They have supplied a valuable, personal and necessary service to their surrounding communities, and they have in the past alleviated the pressure that has sometimes been placed on our public hospitals. There is no doubt that country doctors, particularly those in remote areas, have a very daunting and demanding task, a fact evidenced by federal government statistics. But a comparison of rural centres and capital cities suggests that the workload of city GPs is not far behind that of some of their rural colleagues now.

It is my job to represent and fight for the people of Adelaide. Right now, the people of Adelaide are suffering from the government’s failure to act on this issue. The Adelaide North East Division of General Practice, within which a large part of the Adelaide electorate falls, reported that in 2002 the number of people per GP stood at 1,395. In 2003—in just one year—this figure jumped to 1,430.

The seriousness of this problem was brought to my attention when I was recently contacted by staff and patients of the Nailsworth surgery, a surgery which falls within the northern part of my electorate. In 2003 the Nailsworth surgery lost two practising GPs, and it has since been unable to attract replacement practitioners due to the shortage. I visited and met with staff of the Nailsworth surgery, who informed me that the surgery has reached full capacity and that staff are forced to turn away, on average, two or three new patients every day.

Recently the surgery has interviewed an overseas trained doctor in the hope of appointing him. This doctor is very willing and enthusiastic about joining the clinic. However, under the government’s Health Insurance Act, the surgery’s newly sourced GP is unable to attract the necessary Medicare provider number. The doctor in question has completed six years of rural service, and both he and the surgery have applied for an exemption under section 19AB of the Health Insurance Act. This request was initially denied, and the surgery requested a review of this decision. In support of the Nailsworth surgery, I have previously written to the Minister for Health and Ageing, the Hon. Tony Abbott, appealing for an exemption to be granted based on special circumstances. However, this appeal has now been denied for a second time because the federal health authorities do not consider Nailsworth to be an ‘area of shortage’.

Let me insist to this House that the shortage is very real for the people of Nailsworth. A petition is currently being circulated in the Nailsworth area which has already attracted over 700 signatures. It will soon be tabled in this parliament. The Nailsworth surgery may be close to the CBD of Adelaide, but I assure you that the doctor shortage is hitting our community very hard and relief is seriously needed. The Nailsworth surgery services some of the most disadvantaged people in metropolitan Adelaide, and this is not the only clinic that faces such difficulties. Rather, the Nailsworth surgery illustrates problems that face a number of clinics in metropolitan areas across this country.

I reiterate: the pressure on GPs and health clinics is very real and considerable. Workload concerns could have been resolved if it were not for the government’s deficient policies and regulations. The government has remained in denial over its role in contributing to the doctor shortage, and it has willingly left many Australians without ready access to a GP, let alone a bulk-billing GP.

Unlike the Howard government, Labor is committed to investing in more doctors and nurses. Labor is committed to working together with our state and territory governments to address these crucial issues. I note that South Australia’s brand new Minister for Health, the Hon. John Hill, has already been getting on with the job of addressing these issues. Labor is committed to more medical graduates and more GP training places. At the last election, Labor promised to invest $1.5 billion to build Australia’s health-care work force, which included an additional 1,000 medical places.

With this in mind, tonight I call on the Howard government to urgently consider long-term solutions to ease the pressing issue of doctor shortages in this country. More particularly, I call on the federal minister for health to listen not just to my call but to the calls of hundreds of residents of Adelaide and to use his authority and grant an exemption for the Nailsworth surgery under section 19AB of the Health Insurance Act. The people of Adelaide have elected me to fight for their needs, and I tell you that I will be fighting long and hard on this issue until Nailsworth has access to adequate GP services. (Time expired)