Page 2029 - Week 07 - Wednesday, 15 May 2013

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MS GALLAGHER: As Mrs Jones would know, under national health reform the responsibility for primary care is not with the ACT government. It remains with the commonwealth. But we have entered the space in terms of funding services. There is the walk-in centre—and I know you said medical services, but the walk-in centre provides out-of-hours access to health assessments and, if required, referral to a medical practitioner either in the emergency department or back to general practice.

We also fund, I think at a cost of over $1 million a year to ACT taxpayers, the after-hours CALMS service. That does have a component where people have to pay, although they are able to bulk-bill individual patients. At the moment, just over half of all presentations to GPs are bulk-billed. When you talk individually to general practitioners, they will tell you that they bulk-bill the people who need to be bulk-billed but that they also run a business and in that business they are, like every other business person, able to make decisions about the level of income they generate through their work.

But over 50 per cent of presentations are bulk-billed. You talk to any GP. They tell you that they will bulk-bill kids. They will bulk-bill concession cardholders. They will bulk-bill the families that they know are under pressure. Also, the large out-of-hours medical practices also provide a bulk-billing service for certain criteria of patients, and they are open out of hours as well.

MADAM SPEAKER: A supplementary question, Mr Gentleman.

MR GENTLEMAN: Minister, how important is it to support GP growth across Canberra?

MS GALLAGHER: It is very important to ensure that we have a good supply of GPs. We are coming through the worst of a GP shortage here. Part of what the government has been focusing on is encouraging younger doctors to enter the GP training program because what we do see when we do any analysis of the general practice workforce is that it is an ageing workforce. There are a lot of part-time arrangements in place, which also reduces the amount of sessions that particular GPs will work.

Medicare Local is undertaking a current, up-to-date survey about the intentions of GPs in terms of workplace decisions they might be taking, whether they are retiring, and also new GPs that are coming on. When that work is finished, it will be released and I think it will provide us with more than just anecdotal information about the level of supply.

What I am hearing from established general practitioners in Canberra is that they believe the supply has reached a point where we have an adequate number of GPs. They are now concerned about issues of quality and making sure that the GPs that are working in Canberra are quality GPs. And they have raised some issues there. We will wait and see what the results back from this survey are, but I think that will give the Assembly and the community the best information we have to date about the level of supply and also future intentions of the GP workforce.

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