RADIO INTERVIEW – 2CC – Afternoons with Leon Delaney
Tuesday, 10 August 2021
SUBJECT: GP shortages and the Senate Inquiry
LEON DELANEY, PRESENTER: The shortage of general practitioners in Eden-Monaro will be investigated as part of a Senate Inquiry into the lack of doctors in regional and rural Australia. Joining me now federal Member for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain Good afternoon.
KRISTY MCBAIN, MEMBER FOR EDEN-MONARO: Good afternoon, Leon.
DELANEY: Thanks for joining us today. This is a problem right across regional and rural Australia. Is it any worse in Eden-Monaro than it is in other parts of the big country?
MCBAIN: Well, look, there are numerous towns across Australia which are struggling to attract and retain GPs. And I guess the spotlight is, at the moment, shining on Eden-Monaro after we lost our last GP in Bombala. So it's fantastic that action and that spotlight that members of our community have been shining has now resulted in the Senate Inquiry getting up.
DELANEY: How significant is the shortage across your electorate?
MCBAIN: It's quite significant. I've spoken to numerous GPs, who are having trouble attracting other GPs to the area. A lot of our GPs are nearing retirement age, and they aren't sure how they're going to replace themselves. And that's effectively the situation we saw in Bombala, where the general practitioner had been a member of the community for a number of years and was putting his own health issues off to serve other members of the community until it became apparent he could no longer do that. So we want to make sure that we're proactive in this. And I want to thank all of those GPs and all the community members that have been writing into our office to ensure that the spotlight has been shown and now we'll hopefully see some action.
DELANEY: Okay, now, the Inquiry, I believe, will look into a number of issues, including the government's current classification system, which is something that here in Canberra, we've also run into a bit of a brick wall on that one, because they change our classification. And now it's damn near impossible to find the bulk billing doctor because nobody can afford to do it, I guess you probably have similar problems.
MCBAIN: Yeah, there are not very many bulk billing doctors in the electorate at all. And that is probably in no small part to the fact that that Medicare rebate was frozen for so long. But it just doesn't cover the cost of our GP practices any longer, you know, with the amount of compliance and regulation that a GP practice has to go through, there is a full time position now allocated to managing all of the compliance. So the way in which GP practices and are managed has changed significantly over time. And there has to be some new models and some out of the box thinking. And I hope that members of the Eden-Monaro community, especially our local GPs, are invited to give evidence into this Inquiry because we need to hear from real people on the ground, and not from people behind desks who aren't experiencing the situation that our GPs and our locals are.
DELANEY: Yeah. The other difficulty that we confront here in Canberra is a shortage of specialists. Now, I would imagine that in an ideal world, people in your electorate would probably be entitled to expect to come to a major city like Canberra, to see a specialist that they might need to but under the current circumstances, that's unfortunately probably not the case. In many instances, they might have to go to Sydney instead, or perhaps even further afield.
MCBAIN: Yeah, I think the disappointing part is that sometimes there's a lack of recognition of our lines of desire around or our pull factors. For many people across my electorate, the quickest capital to get to is obviously Canberra. And that is their preferred route because it's closer. It’s impossible to see a specialist in most circumstances in Eden-Monaro. And most of those people are coming to Canberra to see specialists or for medical procedures. I think the last estimate from the Rural Health Alliance was that there was a $4billion saving to government, both state and federal every year because regional people do not seek medical advice or assistance. So what I would be asking as part of this inquiry is that some of that money which is saved because regional people aren't getting to access, medical practitioners should be spent in actually incentivising more doctors into our region.
DELANEY: I spoke to the Rural Doctors Association of Australia recently, and a point that they made quite forcefully is that there's a significant difference between regional and rural. And while things are difficult in the regions, they're damn near impossible in the rural and remote, which, of course, I presume is even further away from the bright lights of the big city. Do you think this Inquiry will properly recognise the differences in the issues?
MCBAIN: I definitely hope so. And I'll be asking members of my community to make submissions, because the last thing I want to see is those outer Metropolitan issues being lumped in with regional and remote issues. They should be kept entirely separate because the issues that we're facing in regional, rural and remote areas are entirely different to the issues that are being faced in outer metropolitan areas.
DELANEY: And of course, the other big question that people might be having at this point is, is the shortage of doctors impacting the vaccine rollout?
MCBAIN: Look right across our communities, people lining up to be vaccinated. There are waiting lists of people who want to be vaccinated. Supply is an issue right across the country and right across Eden-Monaro. Few of our GPs accredited for the vaccine rollouts and the ones that are, as I said, have huge waiting lists. What we need to see is a more speedy and effective rollout that's utilising every GP that has registered an interest, not just some of them. That's utilising every pharmacy that's registered an interest, not just some of them. So I want to see all of our GPs, all of our pharmacists being used to get this vaccine rolled out to regional and remote areas.
DELANEY: Indeed, the sooner the better. Thanks very much for chatting with us today.
MCBAIN: Thanks Leon.