Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Questions without Notice
Rural and Regional Health Services
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Aged Care. Earlier this month, the community of Wudinna in South Australia were advised by their local doctor, Dr Scott Lewis, that he was leaving, no longer able to tolerate working in a system 'with so little respect for its frontline medical and nursing staff'. He will be relocating to Adelaide at the end of the year. What is the government doing to remedy his concerns about the lack of respect and the lack of support? What is the government doing to ensure continuity of service in Wudinna after Dr Lewis leaves? What will the cost of that continuity of service be to the government? And what is the government doing to replace Dr Lewis?
COLBECK (—) (): I thank the senator for the question and for some notice of the topic of the question, given its very local specificity. I can understand the concern of the residents of Wudinna losing their local GP. My understanding, having had a conversation with the very, very good member for Grey, Mr Ramsey, this afternoon, is that the doctor, Dr Lewis, only came for a short period to Wudinna and stayed for 15 years. He's given great service to that local community and I'm sure the community are very sad he's leaving.
The issue in relation to attracting doctors to regions is a difficult one; it's many faceted. I have to say, I'm really quite proud of the work that this government's done in support of attracting doctors into regional areas. In the 2018-19 budget we put $550 million into the Stronger Rural Health Strategy, and we followed that up in last year's budget with another $123 million supporting the implementation of that strategy.
In that particular area, I'm aware that Mr Ramsey's been very active in working with his colleagues, Minister Hunt and Minister Gillespie, to work on local solutions. I'm advised that Minister Gillespie has also had a number of direct conversations with the South Australian minister for health, Minister Wade, to see what the two governments can do together in support of providing GP services in that local area. I'm also aware that Minister Hunt, following a conversation, provided $300,000 to support a report that's being done by the Northern Eyre Peninsula Health Alliance, which will be handed to Minister Hunt very soon. (Time expired)
It sounds like a lot of talk and not a lot of action at this point. Kimba has had a doctor for only two of the last six years. Currently, they are being serviced by locums, when those locums are available. Mayor Dean Johnson tells me that they have no doctor in Kimba this week—a week when South Australia is opening up its borders to COVID. What is the government doing to remedy this situation in Kimba?
I reject the allegation made at the outset of that question. Mr Ramsey has been very actively working with his ministerial colleagues and working closely with the South Australian government. As I was saying towards the end of my answer, Mr Ramsey secured $300,000 for the Northern Eyre Peninsula Health Alliance to undertake a piece of work to see what would be the most effective things in attracting and retaining doctors, specifically in the Kimba region. He's actually out there doing the job and working hard for his constituents.
I acknowledge, Senator Patrick, your concern for the community as well; this is an important issue, but it is complex. We are working with that community, providing them with resources, to help come to solutions and facilitate the attraction of doctors into those particular communities, because we understand it's important. (Time expired)
Wudinna and Kimba, 100 kilometres apart, in the centre of the Eyre Peninsula, soon won't have a doctor in sight. Does the minister accept that there is a real potential for death to occur, from an incident or accident, and the direct inability to respond with a qualified doctor in a short time? Does the government accept that it will be responsible for deaths in these circumstances?
Senator, I think it's really unfortunate that you try to portray any tragic incident that might occur in a local community in those circumstances. There are other provisions that the government puts in place, including specific arrangements with the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which provide support to the regional areas. As I said in my two initial answers, there is direct action and activity being undertaken by the local member, with local communities, with his ministerial colleagues and the state government, in efforts to attract doctors to the region.
Dr Lewis has not left yet but has I think, quite responsibly, given the community some notice that he is going to go. It gives the community and the state, federal and local governments the opportunity to work together to see what they can do to attract additional services to the region in a very complex climate. (Time expired)