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Wednesday, 23 May 1973
Page: 2481

Mr BENNETT (SWAN, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - Has the attention of the Minister for Social Security been drawn to the public statements made by Dr Hames and Dr Fischer of Western Australia that they were withdrawing from the pensioner medical service because of intrusion and interference by the Australian Government in the manner in which they practise? Will the Minister investi gate this claim to ensure that, if there has been any Government intrusion or interference, it is promptly ended and that steps are taken to prevent its occurring in any other instances?

Mr HAYDEN (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) (Minister for Social Security) - I did note the reports in the newspapers yesterday and accordingly took the opportunity of checking with the Department of Social Security to establish what were the facts. The facts are a little different from the claims attributed to Dr Hames of Wagin and Dr Fischer of Pingelly, both of Western Australia. No effort was made to intrude or interfere in the way in which they practised medicine or in their relationship as medical practitioners with pensioner medical patients. The Department, in line with normal procedures adopted where sample surveys show what seems to be an excessive visiting rate for pensioners, wrote to these 2 medical practitioners seeking information about the need to maintain such high visiting rates. The 2 doctors took objection to the communication from the Department, refused to supply the information and withdrew from the pensioner medical service.

Perhaps I ought to indicate the justification for the Department's writing in a reasonable sort of way seeking this sort of information. The State average number of services per pensioner medical service patient in Western Australia is 7.8. Dr Hames was providing an average of 14.02 services per patient, nearly twice the State average rate. Dr Fischer was providing 16.8 services per patient - more than double the State average. The significance is that Dr Hames sought $4,787 remuneration under the pensioner medical service. If he had been providing services at the State average rate he would have been seeking only $2,663. Dr Fischer sought payment for pensioner medical services of $6,810. If he had been providing services at the State average rate he -would have sought or been paid only about $3,143. Accordingly, there is an amount of $5,791 greater than would be justified if the visiting rates were about the State average. It could well be in some cases that the visiting rate has to be higher than the State average and this is one of the reasons that this information was sought.

Finally, I mention to the honourable member and to other honourable members that the rough guideline followed by the Department in matters such as this is very generous. Not only has the visiting rate to be greater than 50 per cent above the State average but also there has to be a consistent pattern over a long period and related to particular visiting practices where home calls or nursing home calls are provided. On this basis checks are made, and I submit have to be made as a matter of public responsibility, where fairly substantial amounts of public money are concerned.

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