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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2007 Week 12 Hansard (Wednesday, 21 November 2007) . . Page.. 3641 ..


Australian newspaper that more than 12 million Australians have inadequate access to primary health care, could you update the Assembly on the level of need for primary health care in the ACT and what the government is doing to lessen the federal government’s failings in this area?

MS GALLAGHER: I thank Ms MacDonald for the question. The Australian did report that up to 12 million Australians have inadequate access to primary health care. This was based on figures from the federal Department of Health and Ageing which showed that to the end of March 74 per cent of Australia’s landmass, or 59 per cent of the population, has been declared “districts of workforce shortage”. Health minister Tony Abbott responded by admitting that the federal government should have moved to train more doctors sooner and that, if people were willing to wait a few hours, everything was fine. This came from a government that was directly responsible for the training and funding of general practitioners and which has overseen freezing of training places in the past to such a degree that these damning figures have become apparent and show this inadequate access to primary health care.

Locally, we are suffering from the federal government’s failures in this area. I have written on no less than six occasions over the past 12 months to the federal government, pointing out that primary care practitioner rates in the ACT have dropped, that the three electorates with the lowest bulk-billing rates in the nation were Eden-Monaro, Fraser and Canberra and that the 2005-06 report on government services showed that the ACT had 63 GPs per 100,000 as compared with the national average of 85 per 100,000. Based on this the ACT healthcare system is currently 60 doctors short of its ideal GP workforce.

We also have the second-highest percentage of female practitioners behind the Northern Territory at 36 per cent. Female medical practitioners traditionally work fewer hours than their male colleagues; some may even work part time. Medical practitioners in the ACT on average are the second oldest in Australia at 46½ years and our shortage of GPs is leading to the ACT’s high ratio of emergency department presentations, which in 2005-06 was 306 per 1,000 population compared with the national average of 256 per 1,000 population.

The government has provided options on a variety of commonwealth initiatives and sought these initiatives for the ACT community. We have sought additional medical school places to increase the number of medical graduates that we train. We have sought to declare the entire ACT a district of workforce shortage. We have sought further commonwealth incentives for GPs to bulk bill and also to extend the outer metropolitan provisions to the whole of the ACT, giving GPs incentives to relocate from metropolitan areas through a monetary bonus.

Despite this, little assistance beyond the piecemeal declaration of some parts of the ACT as a district of workforce shortage has occurred. Encouragingly, this limited response has already provided a positive impact, with bulk-billing rates rising from the incredibly low level of 36.4 per cent two years ago to 51 per cent in the March quarter 2007. However, this still leaves us 11 per cent behind the next lowest jurisdiction, the Northern Territory, and a massive 26 per cent behind the national average of 77 per cent.


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