Page 1312 - Week 04 - Wednesday, 25 March 2009

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(iii) how to arrest, and reverse, the decline in GP numbers in the short and longer term; and

(iv) strategies to attract and retain GPs in suburban clinics.

My motion deals with GP numbers here in the ACT. We need to take a closer look at the reason why we have had such a continued decline in numbers and what we can do about it. As the motion makes clear, this is an issue that has gone unaddressed for far too long in the ACT. Given the recent closures that we have seen, we cannot allow this situation to go under the radar any longer.

I think we are all well aware of the disastrous situation in the ACT. We are about 60 GPs short. According to statistics released by both the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Primary Health Care Research and Information Service, Canberra has the lowest number of GPs per capita in Australia. That statistic is particularly alarming given that over the last two years there has been a per capita increase in GP numbers across Australia.

Coupled with this decrease in the number of GPs has been the closure of GP clinics. So it is not just the total number of GPs but the way GPs are employed in the ACT. The closure of GP clinics has accelerated in the last few years. Members will recall that in the lead-up to the 2008 election the Wanniassa medical centre closed. In recent times there have been closures in the north-west of Canberra—in Macquarie, Kaleen and O’Connor. Last week the clinic in Kippax closed and this week the family practice in Belconnen closed its doors.

These clinics have buckled under the weight of administrative procedures and process and just the lack of support that they have been receiving from the ACT government and the federal government. Some of the GPs have moved to larger clinics. That certainly happened in the south with the Phillip centre and a centre that is due to open in Belconnen. But there are significant issues with that model. It is not an ideal model. We need a dispersion of GPs throughout the suburbs, both in super clinics and locally. To rip the local GPs out of local communities and suburbs and put them all in one place really does not service a community.

It is also of great concern given what is coming to us in the future. Remember that by 2020 we are going to see a significant increase in Canberra’s population and also an ageing of that population. We are a young jurisdiction at the moment, but as time goes on and as the population ages the need for GPs, the importance of GPs in the community and the importance of those GPs being located near to where people live will increase. If we do not have GPs in clinics where people can access them then the issues that plague the elderly, such as chronic illness, will go unaddressed. We will see a lack of preventative measures and a lack of early intervention in our elderly.

It is pretty clear that the lack of GPs is having a significant effect already in the community, but what really worries me is the impact as we move forward. If we continue with the current trend of a decline in the number of GPs we have got per capita and the closure of GP clinics, the impact on us in future years, essentially as we get older, is going to be enormous.

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