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Thursday, 12 April 1973
Page: 1372

Mr McKenzie (Diamond Valley) - Has the attention of the Minister for Social Security been directed to the boycotting action by some doctors of the nursing homes admission procedures introduced by the last Government? How extensive has this boycott been and what action has he taken to minimise any undesirable effects, particularly on those elderly patients who are in urgent need of care and who cannot persuade their doctors to carry out the necessary procedures?

Mr HAYDEN (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) (Minister for Social Security) - I think the first thing to stress is that the procedures for admission are ones which were legislated for by the previous Government. We have inherited this policy and I rather expect, therefore, that the procedures have the wholehearted support of both sides of this House. The procedures in fact have been modified by this Government in the interests of patients. I arranged very early in the piece, as a result of approaches made by the Australian Medical Association, that patients could be admitted in emergency situations if the doctor contacted the Department and indicated the condition of the patient or if the doctor completed the form and gave it to the matron of the nursing institution, to relatives of the patient or to the patient himself - the patient could submit the form to the Department. This was an effort to expedite the admission procedures to the convenience of possible patients.

It has been reported that the AMA has called on the medical profession to boycott the admissions procedure. Figures which have been provided to me by the Department indicate that fewer than 3 per cent of doctors have, in fact, boycotted the system. Nonetheless it is most unfortunate that members of the medical profession have sought to inconvenience members of the public, not only people who are likely to be patients but also their families, in a display of medical politics. I think that members of both sides of the House are aware that at present within the medical profession a vigorous battle is ensuing between representatives of the AMA and representatives of the Society of General Practitioners. In these circumstances the maverick group - the Society of General Practitioners - is seeking every opportunity it can to whip up a frenzy and a sense of concern and alarm, in every case without any justification, among members of the medical profession. This is one of the instances where this is being done. In real emergency situations where a patient will be inconvenienced by a doctor - as I have indicated, only a minimum number of doctors are totally boycotting the scheme - we make arrangements with Commonwealth medical officers to expedite the admission of the patient.

I repeat, it is most unfortunate that there is a trend among some members of the medical profession today to use the public in quite an unconscionable way as part of their program in this struggle involving medical politics. The statement, for instance, of representatives of the Society of General Practitioners that they will withdraw, if it suits them, from the pensioner medical service is a perfect case in point. The people who would suffer are the aged and the infirm - the people who are the most vulnerable and who have the greatest need in the community. Representatives of the Society state that the same sort of withdrawal practices will be applied., if they feel so inclined, to the repatriation medical service. This is a completely unwholesome approach to the whole matter because I point out that the present Government and the previous Government took the same line.

We endorse the principle that the Federal Government has a real responsibility to the public in this matter. This year about $90m of taxpayers' money will be devoted to the nursing home system as a daily bed subsidy. By 1980 that figure will have climbed to about $400m. Quite clearly there is a very real responsibility incumbent upon all members of the Parliament to ensure that taxpayers' money is used carefully and responsibly and that minimum demands are made on taxpayers. To the extent that money is available the Government will maximise the benefits for the community. If money is used excessively and unjustifiably in one area, we deprive other areas of need - education, other areas of health, welfare services, community services, environmental factors and so forth.

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