GP services in the Lake Macquarie electorate

10th May 2022

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (19:06): Last week I received an email from a constituent who lives at Cooranbong with her husband and two young boys. Amy's email was among a dozen I received in the past week alone from people fed up with trying to find a GP appointment in the local area or access basic health services. Amy's husband works in Western Australia, so she generally cares for the boys full-time. She puts them into day care occasionally so that she can work a part-time job. On Monday April 28, her 17-month-old son developed a condition in his foot while at day care. By the next day, he was struggling to walk, so she began the search for a GP. Amy called every GP in the local area and could not get an appointment for four weeks. She went on the cancellation list of every GP in the hope that she might get in somewhere to have her toddler's ailment looked at.

As his condition worsened throughout the day, Amy decided to take him to John Hunter Hospital, which is 40 kilometres away. She waited in the emergency waiting room with a screaming toddler for three hours before being ushered into another room to wait another hour for a nurse to see them. Yet another hour passed before a doctor finally came in, told Amy the problem could be one of three different things and encouraged her to see a GP the following morning. The same scenario was repeated the next day. Finally, Amy found a GP willing to see her at Bateau Bay on the Central Coast, which is more than an hour away, with more than 20 GP surgeries in between. Fortunately, the toddler's ailment was diagnosed and the appropriate treatment was provided. This is what Amy left me with:

Greg, the system is broken. When a child who has been unable to walk for three days can't be given the time of day, and when I have to call more than a dozen surgeries for three days pleading for an appointment, the system sucks.

I agree with Amy. Another constituent, Frank, moved to the local area in 2018 with his wife to retire. He is still trying to get on the books of a local GP and often travels back to Sydney to see his old GP. He said, "We do not want to place pressure on the public hospitals and health system every time we get sick. We need more GPs." For the record, not a single GP surgery in the Southlake area of Lake Macquarie bulk-bills. That went out the window a long time ago, when many local surgeries had to make the decision to stop bulk-billing or go to the wall. Like my colleagues in this House, I am aware of the issues related to Medicare and the Federal jurisdiction that this issue largely falls under, but these are issues we have been reporting for years without improvement.

One of the larger GP health centres in my electorate is Waratah Medical Services. We had to fight tooth and nail to get Lake Macquarie declared a distribution priority area [DPA] so that the likes of Waratah could try to fill the gaps with overseas-trained GPs. We are talking about a surgery that once employed more than 20 GPs when it was established. It is now down to seven, but it is celebrating this week because it appears they may have secured two more GPs from England under the DPA system. That is how far the net has to be cast to fix the GP shortage in Lake Macquarie. Unfortunately, the DPA status provided to Lake Macquarie is due to expire in July, so we now have to wait and see if that status will be extended before we face the steady slide back to where we started.

I acknowledge and thank the Minister for Health, Brad Hazzard, who is aware of these issues and has always afforded me a great deal of assistance, even though the greater problem exists with his Federal counterparts. Just last week, the parliamentary committee in the other place released some damning findings on health outcomes and access to hospital services in rural and regional New South Wales. It found extensive problems beyond those that I outlined earlier and made 44 recommendations not just around hospital care and health access but around GP services. It is my great hope that not only does Lake Macquarie get an extension to its DPA status but the State and Federal governments act on that report immediately because, as Amy said in her email, the current system is broken. It does not meet the demands of a modern society, particularly where GPs in rural and regional areas are concerned, and it must change.

Website: Read the Parliamentary Hansard here

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