SPEECH - Save our GP Access After Hours Service

29 November 2021

I am very pleased to move this motion in the Australian Parliament today. This is an issue that concerns all of my Labor colleagues in the Hunter region because of the brutal reality of this Morrison Liberal Government’s decision to cut our GP Access After Hours service in the Hunter.

From Christmas Eve, the after-hours GP clinic at the Calvary Mater Hospital in my electorate will be closing permanently and the operating hours at the four remaining clinics at the John Hunter Hospital, Belmont Hospital, Maitland Hospital and the Toronto Polyclinic will be significantly reduced.

This Liberal Government has a long history of undermining our universal healthcare system.

We’ve had eight long years of savage cuts to Medicare under Liberal governments, including Medicare rebate freezes; the reclassification of most of the Hunter region from being a ‘district of workforce shortage’ to being a so-called metropolitan area with no GP shortages at all; brutal cuts to bulk-billing incentive payments, which have cost our region some $7 million in lost revenue and the forced the closure of many GP’s surgery doors; and earlier this year we saw almost 1,000 changes to the Medicare Benefits Schedule, resulting in even higher out-of-pockets costs for patients. 

And now the Calvary Mater Hospital after-hours clinic is next on the Morrison Government’s chopping block.

The Morrison Government has made it abundantly clear that they have zero intention of restoring funding to our GP Access service, leaving local families hanging out to dry.

But this isn’t the only thing they have in store.

The Minister for Health has a review sitting on his desk, which, if implemented, would totally gut our GP Access After Hours Service – effectively wiping out any hope retaining an after-hours service as we know it.

Abandoning this much-loved local service would have a profoundly negative impact for our community and will place enormous pressure on our public hospital emergency departments.

Keeping this service fully operational makes good sense from a social and public health policy perspective, but it also makes good economic sense.

Sadly, the Morrison Government would rather continue the blame game with the NSW Liberal Government about who should fund primary health services than stop the closure of this essential frontline service.

Make no mistake, this is nothing more than a silly exercise of pointing fingers. It’s buck passing.

It’s a classic Morrison Government move – every problem is someone else’s fault. Every crisis is someone else’s responsibility.

It’s clear that the Morrison Government has absolutely no clue what it’s like for sick Novocastrians trying to access affordable healthcare, and it’s clear that they have no plan for the 15,000 people who will be impacted by these cuts.

Over 11,200 people have signed my petition and this number continues to grow each day.

Hundreds of people from the community have reached out to me and to share their stories of what this service means to them and their families. They have expressed their dismay and disbelief, their frustration and anger over these cuts.

These reckless cuts make no sense to me or my community.

As Sue from my electorate noted in her message to me:

Late last Saturday afternoon my husband had an accident which badly injured his hand. GPAAH was able to offer him an appointment at the Mater within 30 minutes of calling and treatment was completed in one hour. Compare that with what would have been on a Saturday night in emergency waiting for at least six hours or longer.

Rachel from my electorate told me:

I have used the GP access service a few times and so has my family. I think it is an excellent service. I have to pay to see a doctor and at times don’t always have the cash to pay. With GP Access there is no long wait periods.

Michelle Harvison from Toronto was so “outraged” when she heard news of government cuts to our GP Access After Hours – she told me how this service has saved her daughter’s life.

When her three-year-old daughter’s health deteriorated, she turned to GP Access first.

Without a prescription of antibiotics and an x-ray from the GPs at the Toronto Polyclinic, her daughter’s lobar pneumonia may never have been attended to in time.

This government has demonstrated nothing but contempt for the tens of thousands of families, like Michelle’s, who will feel the full force of this reckless decision.

This government should be listening to the first-hand experiences of local families, GPs, nurses and health professionals on the ground who will have to bear the brunt of these callous cuts. 

We cannot allow the public good to be sacrificed because of some petty bureaucratic turf war.

It is madness to cut a service that is saving the government millions of dollars every year.

This government’s stubborn refusal to restore funding to our GP Access is pathetic. 

The GP Access funding shortfall is a drop in the ocean for the Commonwealth’s budget, but it has a very large ripple effect, and this money must be restored immediately.

Prime Minister, it's time you stepped up to take responsibility to restore funding to this vital primary health care service immediately, because at the end of the day it’s the families of the Hunter region who will pay the price for your inaction.