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Thursday, 6 May 1993
Page: 256


Senator LEES —My question is directed to the Minister for Health. I refer the Minister to the continuing shortage of medical practitioners in rural and isolated communities and the valuable work being done by nurses practising in these areas. I ask the Minister: firstly, will the Government recognise the contribution being made by nurses and explore legislative or other means of allowing nurses to prescribe certain medications, make referrals to specialists and have admitting rights to local hospitals; secondly, will the Government explore the option of granting nurses, particularly those practising in rural and remote areas, Medicare provider numbers?


Senator RICHARDSON —I met with the Nursing Federation in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago and it raised these matters, which I know have been under consideration for some time. Under our general practice grants, we will be attempting to address, at least in part, the problem of the lack of doctors throughout rural and remote Australia. I would not pretend for a second, though, that that is likely to solve the problem in the short term.

  Despite the resistance of doctor organisations, it would seem to me inevitable that some services will finish up in the hands of nurse practitioners. I will not be able to answer in the space of the next few weeks on the extent to which that will occur and whether or not nurses ought to be given Medicare provider numbers. After we have had some proper consultations with the medical profession—and I do not mean over years; I mean over months—I intend to say something about it in the Budget sittings, because we cannot leave it on the table forever.

  There is a real problem in rural Australia because the spread of doctors gets worse every day, not better. It will not be good enough for the medical profession to simply rail against the idea of nurses performing the functions that have hitherto been those of doctors, unless it is prepared to assist us in making sure that there is a better spread of doctors.


Senator Gareth Evans —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.