House debates

Thursday, 4 August 2022


Medical Workforce

12:59 pm

Gordon Reid (Robertson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in the chamber today to discuss an issue that is deeply affecting the residents of Robertson. However, this issue is absolutely not limited to Robertson; it is felt right across the country. This is not a new or recently emerging issue; this is an issue which affects us all, no matter your age, gender, ethnicity, income or postcode. This is an issue that affects people's lives each and every day. This issue is access to a general practitioner, or GP.

Time and time again in the emergency department, I saw countless patients presenting throughout the day or in the middle of the night—both adults and children—as they were unable to access a GP. Chronic illnesses like hypertension—high blood pressure—or hypercholesterolaemia—high blood cholesterol—are spiralling out of control and resulting in extreme consequences, like acute myocardial infarction and cerebrovascular accidents, more commonly known as heart attack and stroke. Diabetic patients have blood sugar levels spiralling out of control, resulting in significant micro- and macrovascular complications like retinopathy and nephropathy. All this is due to the inability to access a GP for ongoing management.

When I talk to the people of my electorate of Robertson, one of the major issues raised on the phone, when I knock on doors and when I attend street stalls is access to health care—in particular, access to a GP. The role that general practitioners undertake is vital. They provide holistic preventive care, ensuring patients do not deteriorate and end up needing critical intervention, such as the emergency department. Preventive medicine through general practice is an essential part of our healthcare system that must be supported. Preventive medicine eases the burden on our hospitals. Preventive medicine is preventive.

The inability to access a GP should not be an issue within this country, yet, sadly, it has been for quite some time, without any action being taken to rectify this escalating crisis—until now. Just weeks into the term of our new government, we've hit the ground running. We have—together with the Minister for Health and Aged Care and the members for Shortland and Dobell—announced that the entire Central Coast region will be classified as an area with a shortage of medical practitioners, known as a distribution priority area or DPA. This classification opens the available pool of doctors able to come to our region, improving access to health care for all. Labor recognises the need to improve access to health care, as, without this vital access, we fail to manage the health of our community, and the financial burden on our economy escalates dramatically.

From my time in the emergency department, I clearly recall a particular patient who could not have made the consequences—both health and economic—of failed access to primary care any clearer to me. Although I will always recall this patient as such a strong example of these consequences, she represents just one of the vast number of patients who presented each shift with an unnecessary deterioration of their overall health. This patient, a kind, friendly 67-year-old woman, had a urinary tract infection. At first she experienced only mild symptoms and sought the services of a GP for basic investigations and the likely prescription of oral antibiotics. Had she been able to access this time- and cost-effective service, her infection would likely have resolved quickly. However, she was not able to book a GP appointment for nearly three weeks, due to service availability. While she waited for her appointment, her symptoms worsened significantly and her infection became systemic, resulting in sepsis. She was rushed to the emergency department by ambulance, critically unwell. Not only did she now require the services of an ambulance and her local emergency department; she required a bed in a ward and the intensive care unit, with intensive nursing care, extensive monitoring and extensive follow-up from additional services. Unfortunately, each service—each bed in a ward—comes with a heavy price tag. How is this an effective way to manage our community's health?

Members of our community should not have to schedule to be sick. That's why Labor is making it easier to access a doctor in my home electorate of Robertson, with the establishment of an urgent care clinic. That's why we're cutting the cost of medications and expanding access to the Commonwealth seniors healthcare card.