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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 7 Hansard (6 June) . . Page.. 2159 ..

The Commonwealth Government announced in its recent Budget an initiative to improve access to GP services in outer metropolitan areas. This initiative is restricted to the six State capital cities and specifically excludes the ACT and the Northern Territory.

Exclusion of the ACT from this initiative demonstrates that the Commonwealth is not interested in trying to help fix this problem; and

My Government is continuing to press the Commonwealth and consider other options to find a solution to this problem.

With regard to the specific questions raised by the Member in relation to access to General Practitioners across Canberra, I provide the following answers:

(1) How many General Practitioners (GPs) are currently practising in the ACT.

There are currently approximately 210 full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs practising in the ACT. This is an approximate measure as GPs frequently change the hours they work in order to provide best care for their patients.

(2) What proportion of these GPs bulk bill patients on low incomes.

The setting of fees between GPs and their patients is determined on an individual basis. All GPs have the capacity to bulk bill patients on lower incomes.

(3) Relative to the national average, does the ACT have a higher or lower number of GPs per thousand of population.

The ACT generally has about 68 FTE GPs per 100,000. The national average is about 85 FTE GPs per 100,000.

(4) Relative to the national average, does the ACT have a higher or lower proportion of GPs who bulk bill low income patients.

In 2000-01 59% of GP services in the ACT were bulk billed. This is the lowest percentage in Australia and well below the national average of 78%. It is not possible to determine the extent to which bulk billed services are provided to patients on low incomes but it is likely that most are.

(5) Are there any GPs in the ACT that are refusing to take new patients.

Some GPs in the ACT have closed their books to new patients. I do not have information about how many.

(6) What proportion of outpatients at Calvary Hospital have presented due to lack of access to a private GP.

The Government is working with the ACT Division of General Practice, the Canberra After Hours Locum Medical Service, both public hospitals, Health First and consumer groups to develop a model for improved after hours primary medical care in the ACT. The ACT Branch of the Australian Medical Association has indicated support for the project.

As part of this work, the Government jointly funded a research project in the emergency departments of The Canberra and Calvary hospitals. The research examined the reasons why people with less urgent conditions are attending the emergency departments after hours and their preferences for alternative services.

Results from this research indicate that:

61% of patients with less urgent conditions could potentially have seen a GP;

85% of these patients would be prepared to be seen by a GP, even if they had to pay; and

46% were not aware of alternative after hours options.

Data were also collected for patients with less urgent conditions attending emergency departments during business hours and further analysis will be undertaken to see whether the reasons are similar to after hours patients.

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