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Thursday, 5 April 2001
Page: 26638

Mr ADAMS (10:26 AM) —I wish to point out to the House that this government has made the recruitment of doctors in country Tasmania almost impossible. It is hard enough to get doctors to come and practise in Tasmania—yet this government is determined that those who are in the country are unable to get help. In my electorate I have two centres that have recently been reclassified from rural RRMA5 areas for medical provision to urban RRMA1 areas. One is Sorell, covering the south and east coast of Tasmania, and the other is New Norfolk, servicing the Derwent Valley. Apparently these towns are different from Devonport—which retains its rural classification despite being a bigger town and being within a 10-minute drive of a hospital—and Huonville, which is a similar drive time away from Hobart.

This is patently ridiculous. The nearest hospital to these centres is a good 45-minute drive away from both these towns and, unless you break the speed limit, the impact that this reclassification has on medical services has become critical. Doctors in these areas do not just service the townspeople. Both areas stretch out into the rural areas around them and provide a service all over the regions. It is becoming more and more difficult for those doctors to do their jobs, let alone try to cope with new patients. The New Norfolk situation is particularly serious, because one doctor has retired and two others are in their 70s. There are also two doctors who are overseas trained, and the one local who has remained has been run ragged and is almost at the end of his tether as he has lost his two OTDs and, if something is not done soon to help him gain some assistance, he is likely to throw in the sponge.

This is another move to get rid of country services. The viability of the hospital, X-ray services, Corumbene, residential units housing ex-Willow Court residents, and Millbrook Rise is dependent on the availability of medical personnel. If doctors cannot work because of the barriers, these services could close. Australian trained doctors are given no incentive to be country doctors, so why would they put themselves into a situation of being overworked, with no time off and very little hope of getting assistance if they have to leave the practice for a short time? Therefore, many doctors still struggling to stay in their communities have opted to attract overseas trained doctors because they are allowed to work only in rural areas.

Changing New Norfolk and Sorell to `metropolitan' means that no-one will be prepared to take on such a practice. New Norfolk has now lost four full-time GPs, two as a result of direct federal government intervention. With the current barriers that are in place, there is no chance of these GPs being replaced. I have asked the minister twice for a solution, but I am only getting platitudes. Why was this system changed? Why isn't the minister prepared to front the issue head-on and give us some proper answers?

Main Committee adjourned at 10.30 a.m.