Page 1313 - Week 04 - Wednesday, 25 March 2009
Of course, it is not just the fact that people cannot access the GPs and that they are not providing the service we need. There are significant flow-ons throughout our health system. This is most evident, I think, in our hospitals. We are all aware of the problems that people are having in accessing a GP and so they go to an emergency department. As a result we have some of the worst waiting times; in fact, the worst waiting time for category 3 and 4—urgent and semi-urgent—in Australia. A major cause of that is the lack of GPs that we have in the community. I imagine that this is only going to get worse. A number of GP clinics have closed recently in Belconnen. People will not be able to go to a GP, because there simply is not one there to service them, and they will go to the emergency department of Calvary. There is nowhere else for those people to go.
The lack of GPs also has an impact on bed rates. At the moment we have a bed occupancy level of about 90 per cent, and we know that anything above 85 per cent is dangerous. A lack of GPs has a flow-on effect. It flows on to elective surgery. If we do not have GPs treating people, preventing illness and providing early intervention and advice, what could have been treated by early intervention becomes chronic and requires elective surgery. Waiting lists grow. People that need elective surgery will not be able to get onto those waiting lists. We know that we already have for elective surgery category 2—people who present and are treated within 90 days—the worst rate in Australia.
What effect does this have on the health of the community? I have mentioned some statistics, but it is important when we allude to statistics to be mindful that every statistic, every person on that list, every one per cent of people on that list is someone who is not receiving treatment, and often they are in dire pain. If we do not have GPs in our community we are going to become an unhealthy society. We are very lucky at the moment because we are young and we are one of the healthiest jurisdictions in the country. But as we become less healthy, as we age, the reality is that if we do not have the GPs to provide the early intervention and the preventative measures to treat people then we are going to become the least healthy jurisdiction. We will move from the healthiest to the least healthy. Everyone else will have more GPs than us.
I have emphasised the role of GPs, but they are only a part of the primary health continuum. If we do not actually address this issue, there will be a failure across the whole health continuum. We are putting pressure on the bits that really are there and that have to be there—the hospitals—because we do not have enough GPs.
What are we going to do about it? We do not hear much from this government. A lot of their targets and ideas that we do hear about seem to be aspirational. I hope that if this government eventually present some form of policy and introduces measures, they are more than just aspirational targets. I have noticed that some of the health targets in the Greens-Labor agreement—the 12 per cent of funding towards mental health and the 30 per cent of funding within that to go to community organisations—seem to have gone wobbly and now are aspirational and no longer real targets. We heard the health minister say that in the Assembly a little while ago. It is good to see the health minister here. Welcome back.