Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 09 Hansard (Tuesday, 19 August 2008) . . Page.. 3209 ..
MS GALLAGHER: I thank Ms MacDonald for the question. Over the past five years, this government has been fighting for better access to general practice for our community. We have recognised that rates of bulk-billing and GPs per capita in the territory are the lowest in the country and we have been working to fix it. I acknowledge the pressures that the current shortage of GPs in the ACT has placed on our community. I say to those hard working general practitioners who work every day to support our community that we acknowledge their efforts.
The previous health minister successfully lobbied for key parts of the ACT to be declared areas of workforce shortage. This has provided key incentives to areas of the ACT to attract and retain GPs. As a government, we have been lobbying consistently since then for the federal government to recognise the whole of the ACT as an area which should be able to access this incentive program. To date, we have not been successful in achieving that, but the lobbying continues.
We have also included funding for a pilot program to rotate junior doctors into GP practices to promote this as a career option. The ACT government is also conducting research into the needs of sessional doctors and has recently funded a marketing and support officer with the aim of attracting GPs to the ACT, working in partnership with the Division of General Practice.
I have written many times to seek additional GP training places to be allocated to the ACT. At the moment I think we get eight training places a year, and that is not enough, in terms of the numbers of GPs that are wanting to retire. So we can’t replace the workforce we already have. The ANU Medical School is continuing to provide results. This year, for the first time, more interns are wanting to come and work in the ACT than places were available through the IMET scheme. That is not to say there were not places available for them in the hospital, but in the past we have needed IMET in order to guarantee that the numbers of our intern positions were filled every year.
This year, I was able to contact the New South Wales minister for health directly and reach an agreement with her which will allow for the appointment of 14 graduates who were unsuccessful in securing an internship through the IMET process. We now need to look in the longer term at our relationship with New South Wales, but I would like to put on the record that we could not have operated the Canberra Hospital if we did not have IMET in place. They have guaranteed us doctors to come to the ACT when we have not had our own locally trained graduates coming through.
ACT Health is also developing new initiatives to support GPs in their care of the community. Within the context of the ACT primary healthcare strategy, we are developing a community acute and post-acute care program, which aims to reduce the barriers to the provision of care in the community for patients with acute conditions. Further, we are working closely with the GP working group to improve GP services. It is a very significant group, as it sets the direction and strategies needed to address GP shortages in the ACT.
We also have the excellent CALMS after-hours GP clinics, supported by virtually all GP practices in the ACT, which provides after-hours GP services in Belconnen,