Media Release - CLOSURE OF HUNTER MEDICARE LOCAL ANOTHER BLOW TO PRIMARY HEALTH CARE IN OUR REGION

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16 October 2014

The Abbott Liberal Government’s decision to close the Hunter Medicare Local is a broken promise and is another blow for primary health care in our region.

Despite promising before the last election that not a single Medicare Local would close, the Government now plans to close all 61, replacing them with 30 Primary Healthcare Networks. 

Boundaries for the new Primary Healthcare Networks were released yesterday afternoon with the new Hunter New England and Central Coast Primary Health Network stretching from Gosford in the south, to the Queensland border in the north and west beyond Narrabri. 

The decision to create super networks raises a number of questions for local communities and existing primary health care partnerships established under the Medicare Local arrangements.

Member for Newcastle Sharon Claydon said: “Medicare Locals were established to respond to the specific health needs of local communities.  With fewer than half the number of their predecessor, Primary Health Networks already have twice the challenge ahead of them to achieve this.”

“It’s important that the replacement model is focused on the areas they represent and are accountable to the local communities. The sheer size of the new networks will present logistical challenges.”

Member for Charlton, Pat Conroy said: “It has been estimated that the cost to close Medicare Locals will be more than $200 million.  This is money coming directly out of the health budget that is not being spent on delivery of any health services.

“It comes on top of the new GP Tax Tony Abbott is trying to introduce and extra costs for x-rays, pathology tests and scans. It’s a pattern of behaviour that shows an alarming lack of support for frontline health services.”

Member for Shortland, Jill Hall said: “Our primary health care services are under incredible pressure and the NSW State Government has already indicated the extra strain a GP Tax would place on emergency departments.”

“This also puts the GP After Hours Access under threat as it was supported by Medicare Local. The GP After Hours Access has helped reduce waiting times in our local hospitals and it is vital that this service continues under the new model. But there is no indication of what will happen.”

Member for Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon said: “The consolidation of Medicare Locals will hit rural and regional areas hardest.  They are just too big."

“There are also questions about the impact the changes will have on jobs in local communities and how single networks that cover such large areas will meet the individual needs of the rural and regional communities.”

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Authorised by Sharon Claydon MP, 427 Hunter Street Newcastle