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Thursday, 9 December 2004
Page: 133

Mrs ELLIOT (9:46 AM) —I rise today to speak about the very desperate need for an after-hours GP clinic in Tweed Heads. This is a very important health issue in our local area. In fact, there are many important health issues, and we have had a real crisis in our health area, particularly due to the declining bulk-billing rates. In fact, it is virtually impossible to find a doctor who bulk-bills in the Tweed and throughout Richmond. Many families have told me of the difficulties they have with that and the increasing cost of seeing a doctor. This impacts particularly upon the elderly and young families. As we all know, when one child gets sick, the whole family gets sick. Many people have told me that it is just not an option for them to go and see their GP, and they often wait and end up getting sicker.

Currently, we do not have any after-hours GP services in the Tweed, so this creates another major problem. People can get sick at any time, 24 hours of the day in fact. This, combined with the lack of people who are actually able to access GP services during the day, has created a major problem, particularly within Tweed Heads. What ends up happening is that many people present at our accident emergency rooms. The Tweed Hospital is the busiest hospital outside of Sydney. It is nonstop in there. You can go in there at any time of the day and there are people waiting—and a lot of those people are those who cannot afford to access GP services, or they are there because it is after hours. Due to the location of the hospital, with so many visitors to the area, it is always busy. That places an absolutely huge strain on our emergency section at Tweed Heads hospital. The staff at the hospital do a marvellous job under increasingly difficult circumstances. This is a problem that has worsened recently. People have told me that they have often had to wait hours to be seen, often for minor health services they require that could be attended to by a GP. With an elderly population—20 per cent of our population is aged over 65—after-hours services are necessary.

During the election campaign the minister for health made a commitment to an after-hours clinic, and earlier this week in question time I specifically asked him when the clinic would be opened and what funding it would be provided. He refused to give the families of Richmond an adequate answer, but as their federal MP it is my job to keep the government accountable for the promises it made to them during the election campaign. There was a very positive response to federal Labor’s commitment to an after-hours GP clinic and, in particular, to the fact that it would be co-located at the Tweed Heads hospital. We need to have it co-located at the hospital to ensure the safety and security of patients and staff. Elderly and sick patients should not have to travel to isolated, dark locations in search of treatment, and staff should not be placed in similar situations that compromise their safety. So I will be fighting to ensure that Tweed Heads gets this after-hours GP clinic and making sure the government keeps its election promise.