Mrs PHILLIPS (Gilmore) (8:12): [by video link] The shortage of GPs in my electorate of Gilmore is critical and that is why I fully support this amendment to the motion for second reading moved by the member for Ballarat: That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:
(1) notes the bill expands access to public dental services; and
(2) urges the Government to do more to address:
(a) access to dental and other health services, including General Practice, in outer-metropolitan, rural and
regional Australia; and
(b) out of pocket costs for all Australians accessing these services"—
The GP shortage in my electorate of Gilmore is at crisis point.
I want to point out that our local GPs and health workers provide the most amazing and vital support in our communities. They are the champions there everyday at the forefront of primary health care, going above and beyond for people in their care. They deserve to be supported more. But in the bay and basin area on the New South Wales South Coast, we have seen doctors retire with the one remaining doctor at the Sanctuary Point Medical Centre retiring soon and no replacement insight. The minister says again our area is not a distribution priority area. Apparently, according to the statistics, we have too many GPs. In fact, some of our GP practices have been calling to be made a distribution priority area for workforce shortage for some time. Take, for example, the Worrigee Medical Practice, which had 13 fulltime equivalent doctors but now has five. Some practices in the bay and basin area of the Shoalhaven have gone from bulk billing to private billing and have closed practices in order to consolidate. This has resulted in the net loss of GP appointments available to communities and poorer patient outcomes, and it has placed enormous strain on remaining practices.
The system is broken.
We now have a two-tier medical system, where those who have lost their GP due to a practice closure, retirement or relocation of GPs cannot afford to pay private-billing fees and have little or no access to a general practitioner. Constituents in the Sanctuary Point area contacted me recently with their very real personal stories about accessing a GP, and these are their words.
Nancy said: 'When my GP retired, I was at a loss. Being 94 years old, I need someone local. Not so—it's the same old, same old story. Practices had too many patients on the waiting list. Some practices had their GPs retiring, other practices were changing to women's health or COVID-19 vaccine and testing. I feel very frustrated.'
Lorelle said: 'My mother had to wait 10 weeks in hospital to be admitted to a nursing home because her doctor had moved and we couldn't find another doctor willing to visit her in the nursing home.' Leanne said: 'It makes no sense that, at the very least, the number of doctors who have recently retired have not been replaced. It already took weeks to get an appointment before they retired and now the wait time is longer. This is putting more strain on an already-busy Shoalhaven Hospital emergency department. The area is
increasing in population, not declining. The number of GPs allocated does not [inaudible]. Wait for a sudden
announcement of an increase in GPs just when they call the election so that they can take the credit and say, "We were listening." We need more GPs now.'
Graham said: 'The need for more doctors is an essential requirement for the bay and basin area of the South
Coast as the population is growing fast and is also an ageing population.' Estelle said: 'I hope we can get more doctors here, as it used to be. At the moment, it's like living in a third-world country.'
Kristy said: 'Where have all the doctors gone? There is a gap, and the minister seems to be in denial. More and more subdivisions are going ahead, with no infrastructure happening or even planned. I'm sure the numbers don't lie, so where is the minister's head on this?' Alan said: 'When our GP retired it took us two months to find another, and not local to me. Every practice was overloaded with new patients. In most cases I was told that one of the GPs at these practices was retiring soon anyway, or one practice was changing its focus.'
Christine said: 'It takes too long to get an appointment because there are not enough doctors.' Thomas said, 'There are not enough permanent GPs.'
Leigh said, 'We desperately need more GPs.' Tanya said: 'My doctor I had for years retired and then I found out Sanctuary Point Medical Centre was shutting down, so I decided to try and find a new good doctor. When I finally seem to find a good doctor, the next time I go they're gone. My whole family has been in the situation where we need to see a doctor. Every time I have tried to get in to any doctor, there's a wait—normally a week—so we try and diagnose ourselves. Most of the time we get better and forget about it. My worry is, if one of my family members falls ill with something serious, we will not have one doctor
that can see us straight away or that can get to know our family, like our old family doctor. We need permanent doctors out here, and more of them, as I am hearing from so many locals having the same issue. They're really concerned about the current situation.'
Frederick said: 'I'm in my 70s and have reached that time when I'm likely to need more regular visits to the
GP. I was disappointed to hear that the Sanctuary Point Medical Centre had not been successful in replacing
those two GPs who had resigned. I have a medical condition which requires ongoing observation, and do not
feel that seeing a new doctor every visit is providing the level of service that I would expect. Sanctuary Point is a marvellous place to live and I don't see why it's so hard to attract young GPs to the area. As a younger man I would have been very happy to work here and bring up a young family.'
There are many cases, but one thing that strikes me most is when a local GP comes to me for support after
having previously had their application rejected to employ a GP to work solely in nursing homes as part of their aged-care program, supporting our most vulnerable. This program literally supports older, vulnerable residents, ensuring they get the care when it's needed. This means less ambulance attendances, less emergency department attendances, lower demand on nursing home care workers, and better coordination with discharge planning and outpatient services, especially palliative care.
We've had the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. Isn't this the type of program and employment of GPs that the government should be supporting? Instead, it knocks back supporting it by rejecting the application to employ a GP. But it doesn't stop there. I'm at a loss as to why a local GP even needed to come to me about support for an application for a GP to work in a COVID clinic. It is beyond belief that that could actually occur.
There is so much that needs to be done to improve regional access to GPs. I'm pleased that Labor is listening and that it supported the new Senate inquiry into addressing regional and rural GP shortages. More than ever, the government needs to start listening, to support our GPs, our health workers and our regional communities.