17 August 2021

Regional and rural health services shortage to go under the spotlight

| Dominic Giannini
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Doctor attending to child patient

GP and health service shortages in regional and rural Australia will be the subject of a new Senate inquiry. Photo: Region Media.

Acute shortages of general practitioners and health services in regional areas, including Canberra and the NSW South Coast, is due to go under the spotlight.

A new Senate committee will consider the Federal Government’s Stronger Rural Health Strategy, GP training reforms and what areas are defined as regional and rural.

The latter is pertinent to the ACT after the Federal Government removed the Territory from some rural bulk-billing incentives in January 2020 by reclassifying Canberra and Queanbeyan doctors.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and ACT Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith have consistently criticised the Federal Government for removing the incentive and freezing Medicare rebates.

Mr Barr said the government is “ripping the guts out of Medicare” at last month’s ACT Labor conference.

Bulk billing has increased from half of GP patients to about two-thirds in the past decade, but the ACT continues to have the lowest bulk-billing rate of any capital city in Australia.

The ACT also has the lowest number of GPs per capita in Australia.

The ACT ranked second-worst in the nation for delaying GP visits due to associated costs, according to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) data from November 2020.

Kristy McBain standing with Anthony Albanese addressing media

Member for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain (centre) joined her Labor colleagues in calling for an inquiry into rural and regional health services. Photo: Facebook.

Labor Member for Eden-Monaro, Kristy McBain, joined the call for the inquiry after 500 residents in her electorate, which covers the South Coast, signed her regional health petition and shared their stories.

Ms McBain said the situation has hit crisis point.

“Too many people are being forced to wait weeks to see a GP – if they can see a GP at all – and the problem is only getting worse,” she said.

“COVID-19 has highlighted the holes and gaps in our health care system, and none are more obvious than the shortage of GPs across regional NSW.

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“But this issue isn’t new. People living in the regions have been battling a critical lack of GPs for far too long.”

Ms McBain said it is important that regions have access to timely and quality healthcare.

Submissions for the Senate inquiry close on 30 September, and a report will be prepared by the final Parliamentary sitting in March 2022.

The public is able to make, or view, a submission here.

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