OPINION

Meryl Swanson: Canberra Matters | Senate inquiry to focus on GP shortages in the regions

SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED: Meryl Swanson pictured with Medicare petitions.
SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED: Meryl Swanson pictured with Medicare petitions.

I have again put the government on notice over its failings to reverse cuts to regional GP incentives.

The changes to regional bulk billing incentives have resulted in fewer GPs across the Hunter.

These cuts have been devastating for our region, forcing fewer practices to bulk bill and making it even harder to bring more doctors to our region.

Having launched an information campaign on this issue back in 2017, I am all too familiar with the challenges for local medical practices in recruiting and retaining doctors. We have continued to see this problem grow, to the detriment of the entire community.

I have raised this matter in Parliament on multiple occasions and continued to meet with various ministers to highlight why this is bad public policy that's ultimately going to cost local lives.

After thousands of signatories to my petition and much perseverance, the Hunter region will now be subject to a Senate Inquiry. In typical fashion this Prime Minister has to be dragged to the solution kicking and screaming.

Labor called for the inquiry in a bid to investigate the critical lack of doctors across outer metropolitan, rural and regional Australia. This inquiry will examine the provision of GP and related primary health services, and consider government reforms and policies, including the Stronger Rural Health Strategy, geographical classification systems, GP training reforms and Medicare rebates, as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on doctor shortages.

The proposed inquiry would investigate acute GP shortages in regional and rural communities, as well as reforms to Distribution Priority Areas (DPA) and GP training.

Our primary health network is in crisis. Too many people are being forced to wait weeks to see a GP and are often unable to become regular patients to a local practice.

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

People in the communities of Kurri Kurri, Maitland and Port Stephens have been battling a critical lack of GPs for far too long. This inquiry will investigate why our region is particularly affected by a lack of GPs and should come up with practical solutions to fix it.

I'm pleased the government has started to acknowledge this is a problem. The reality is it's a direct result of policy decisions made by the Morrison government.

Changing the classification would allow local practices to recruit and retain more GPs from a wider pool of doctors and help people in towns like Kurri access health care more quickly.

Our local GPs are already under a huge strain to support our communities I want them to be assured that I will continue to fight.

Thank you to the GPs who have been working tirelessly to support our communities and who also took time to meet with me and outline the issues affecting their practices and raise their concerns.

I encourage everyone in our community to make a submission or visit my website to share your story about how GP shortages have directly impacted you. You can make a submission to the inquiry at www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary Business/Committees/OnlineSubmission.

Meryl Swanson is the Federal MP for Paterson. Contact her office by calling (02) 4983 2401 or online via merylswanson.com.au.