Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 12 Hansard (13 November) . . Page.. 3597 ..
MS DUNDAS (continuing):
I am informed that the ACT government will not be involved in setting selection criteria for the medical school. Because selection criteria are known to greatly influence the likely destination of graduate doctors, I certainly hope that ACT Health will turn its mind to this issue. It is important that new doctors who are trained in the ACT want to stay in the ACT. Otherwise, the problems we have now will remain.
A budget line for funding of the Canberra medical school falls far short of a coherent strategy to tackle the problem of poor access to bulk-billing doctors. For this reason, I support the development of a strategy to address our GP shortage as called for by Ms Tucker's motion.
It is clear that the ACT government has to reconsider employing GPs in community medical centres at a sufficiently attractive pay rate so access to bulk-billing doctors is improved. I believe that most employed GPs were sacked by the previous government, and access to bulk-billing doctors has declined as a result.
There are other more lateral ways of taking the pressure off existing GPs. A motion I introduced in September called on the ACT government to accelerate the accreditation of nurse practitioners to address Canberra's growing GP shortage. I was told that the report from the trial would be available within a few weeks, but it still has not appeared, so implementation of its recommendations has been further delayed. This is an issue the government does have control over.
I hope that Assembly support for Ms Tucker's motion will get the minister and his departmental officers consulting with health consumers and health providers about an effective strategy that can be implemented in the coming year. I say "strategy"because I am not happy with the amendment moved by the government, even though I understand that Ms Tucker is willing to support it. Her original motion made it quite clear that the ACT can and should be working to develop and implement strategies to address our GP shortage. The amendment merely calls on the government to report, firstly, on what it is currently doing and, secondly, on what it plans to do. I fear that the answer could be nothing and nothing-nothing except berating the federal government about the inadequacy of the current system.
There are obvious problems. The schedule fee is too low and too inflexible. The background of medical graduates is not diverse enough. And it is unsatisfactory that so much of public health care is delivered by private business people whom governments have little power to direct to areas of greatest need.
I understand that the amendment put by the government will get up. I hope the report that will now be called for by this amendment will include real proposals and real strategies and will result in real outcomes. A few suggestions have been presented this evening.
MR SMYTH (9.06): Mr Speaker, the previous government never believed or accepted that it did not have the ability to influence the number of GPs and the way they operated in the ACT; that only federal governments of the time could. Over the life of federal governments of both persuasions, we have seen an erosion of the Medicare rebate, making it particularly difficult for doctors to maintain their position as bulk-billers.