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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 10284

Ms NEAL (3:30 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Will the minister outline any relevant investments in Australia’s health workforce and the challenges that they are designed to overcome?

Ms ROXON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank the member for Robertson for her question. Her electorate, like those of many in this House, is affected by workforce shortages, particularly of doctors. There would not be a person in this House who would not be familiar with families from their electorates coming to see them about difficulties accessing doctors. We believe that action needs to be taken to ensure that families can get the health care that they need in their community when they need it.

The most recent medical workforce survey, released just in the last fortnight, shows that the overall supply of primary care practitioners—so this is mostly GPs—declined under the watch of the Liberal government. It fell from 101 to 97 full-time equivalents per 100,000 of population between 2002 and 2006. As the member for Robertson would be aware, the doctor shortage affects many families. In fact, the latest figures show us that six in 10 Australians feel the impact of this shortage. This was a clear result of a failure of leadership by the previous government. It was a failure to plan for the future and a failure to recognise the long-term impacts of the decisions that they were making.

But in case anyone opposite thinks that this is me just being political, I would remind those opposite, who might mistake this as me politicising it, that the member for Warringah said last year: ‘We failed to increase medical school places until 2000. Sure, you could say that it was overdue.’ The member for Bradfield said earlier this year: ‘In hindsight, it was obvious that the restrictions on general practice training positions imposed in 1996-97 were not appropriate and I did express my concerns at the time.’ It is quite clear that this was a problem. It was only recognised belatedly by the Liberal government, but they did belatedly recognise the error of their ways.

Over the next few years—and this is a good thing—an increasing number of young graduate doctors will be coming on line. Unfortunately, though, these young medical graduates leaving university then have to move into a specialty training place. To do that, they need there to be a training place. For example, this year there was a record number of applicants for GP training places, exceeding the number that were available, leaving young doctors facing a bottleneck which the Liberal Party failed to address. So as a result of the cap that was put in place by the previous Liberal government, promising young doctors with the ambition to become GPs were going to have those ambitions thwarted.

That is why last Wednesday in Tasmania the Prime Minister and I announced that the Rudd government is investing $148 million to immediately establish 175 new GP training places. This will allow 175 new doctors to begin training as GPs in the next two years, bringing the total number next year to 675 and in 2010 to 700. This is, I am sure, welcome news to the whole parliament. It will be welcome news to the community that we have young doctors keen to go into general practice being able to take up their ambitions and service the community.

This was widely welcomed by health professionals in the community. For example, the President of the AMA, Dr Rosanna Capolingua, described this move as: ‘Just what the doctor ordered: a much needed show of support for general practice and our patients which will have an immediate impact.’ The Rudd government believes that Australians should be able to access health care when and where they need it, and this is an important step to us achieving that goal and an immediate down payment on future workforce reform. I encourage all graduates and medical students to consider general practice as a good career and a chance to provide valuable services in our community. I know all members of this House would encourage those young medical graduates to do that.