Page 3313 - Week 09 - Wednesday, 20 August 2008
We have known for a long time about the shortage of doctors. Unfortunately, that is not something that can be fixed overnight, two months before an election. It is a long, long process. I do think it is fantastic that we have got the ANU medical school here. I know some people there who are training to be doctors. It seems to me to be a fantastic course which is keeping people and enthusing people. If they do not stay here and work in the ACT, that is all right. This a national problem now. Young people who emerge as graduates from the Curtin school are going to gain experience if they go elsewhere and then come here. It is good. So let us not have any fuss because not every ANU medical student will take up work in the ACT. Even if they do take it up now, they may move on later. That is the nature of our medical economy. It is important that we have doctors, but I know of rural areas that have not had doctors for years. Let us not just think about the ACT all the time.
We do have problems with our bulk-billing rates. I would have liked to have heard that the ACT Liberals were really going to take that problem on. That is an issue that apparently has been sidestepped. But while bulk-billing rates are important, they should not be the entire focus of the debate. Russell McGowan from the Health Care Consumers said:
We might point out that pursuing higher bulk-billing rates within the ACT, which is something the minister has pointed out that the corporates have enabled us to achieve, is not the answer to all primary healthcare needs. There do need to be salaried health professionals, both government and others … also support for other non-GP private practitioners who can provide primary healthcare services.
There are positives and negatives in Mrs Burke’s plans. The loans to help GPs start practices are probably a good idea. We have heard so many times that the overheads of running clinics are one of the really big obstacles for doctors. The Greens have suggested that we might look at ways that the public sector, the public purse, can help private practitioners to run their services, possibly through the department of health. I am not sure whether that has been looked at yet. I would be very concerned if it just provided loopholes for the corporates rather than ways for family practices to be funded and supported.
We do want after-hours bulk-billing clinics in Tuggeranong, Gungahlin and west Belconnen, but we need to make sure that they are a continuum of health services and that we do not just rely on GPs. We have already heard about the problems there. There are many services that can be offered by non-GPs, non-doctors, and I would like to see us using those services a lot more. We need to be considering mental health issues as well, not just physical health issues, because that is a burgeoning problem in our area.
Speaking specifically to Ms Gallagher’s motion, it is very important that we do consider the complexity of the healthcare system and the need to provide responsible, realistic and achievable solutions. But the Greens say that we need to involve the community in some way. It is very clear that, however the government approaches matters in the ACT, people consider that they live in regions. They consider that they live in Tuggeranong, Belconnen or Gungahlin. So why don’t we involve a community body in some way? I do not have the answers to this, but the community councils end up having to react to decisions made by the medical corporates. For instance, the