Page 490 - Week 02 - Wednesday, 5 March 2008

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I was pleased that I gained a much greater understanding of the way the system works as a result of the public accounts committee’s inquiry into the Auditor-General’s report on waiting lists in hospitals. It was very interesting to go to other jurisdictions and to see how they deal with those problems. Some of those lessons could be translated to the ACT. Indeed, I was quite pleased to see that the government did institute some changes in the way it deals with waiting lists as a result of the Auditor-General’s report and perhaps, to some extent, as a result of the committee’s inquiry into the Auditor-General’s report.

I think that we can only hope now that a better partnership results between the Rudd government through the new health minister, Nicola Roxon, and the states and territories. I suppose we have the best possible scenario for cooperation between the states and territories where there is nothing to be gained from the commonwealth government passing the problem over to the states and saying, “Oh well, they are doing a bad job because they are Labor governments.” We now have wall-to-wall Labor governments, and if that does not translate into better efficiencies and better cooperation then the electorate will need to think again and the Labor Party will need to think again about the way it works together.

One of the best ways for the Australian government to assist us is to increase the funding for local bulk-billing GPs. We have a shortage of general practitioners in Canberra. A Canberra Times article of 13 October indicated that we were about 60 GPs short. How does this translate? We all know that our local, family, personal doctor is one of the most crucial factors in us achieving good health outcomes. I have lived in Canberra for well over 20 years now, and I have to say that it is only in the last few years that I have had a doctor that I believe is my doctor, who knows me and knows my daughter. Earlier than that I did attend a practice but generally had to see a different doctor every time.

I think the ideal outcome for people is that they have a medical practitioner who knows their case history over time and holistically. For some people, that can be a naturopath; for some people it can be an osteopath. It depends on their own indications and their own preferences, but that personal knowledge of one’s health history is really important. We know that in Canberra many GPs have closed their books to new patients. Some GPs who have specialisations that are well known are not able to take new patients, even if, for instance, one wishes to have a skin complaint checked out and only some GPs have access to that.

What we are finding is that people’s conditions can worsen, it becomes an emergency and—hey presto—they are in the queue increasing waiting times at the emergency department. It is health services at the local level, in the suburbs, GPs who are handy to people, understanding that a lot of people can only access health services locally, that are important. That is one of the ways that we need to deal with it. To have two hospitals, one in the north and one in the south is excellent, but to have the local services handy is really crucial.

We know that with our ageing population there will be a big increase in demand for services and in particular kinds of services. At the same time we must not neglect our

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