Too few doctors hamper clinics
renal dialysis, and pledged $3.5 million to buy a positron emission tomography machine for the Royal Hobart Hospital — the next generation of cancer scanning technology.
On Wednesday Roxon also announced $7.5 million for a Super Clinic in Brisbane, where she faced accusations the announcements amounted to pork-barrelling in marginal seats — a charge she dismissed as ‘‘ completely wrong’’.
‘‘ It’s not pork-barrelling to see a need in the community and try to meet it,’’ she told journalists.
Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott has criticised the scheme as ‘‘ Labor playing catch-up’’, saying the Government has already been spending $220 million over four years to help communities of under 5000 people.
Meanwhile, some GPs have continued to express doubts over the feasibility of the Super Clinic scheme.
Hobart GP Graeme Alexander said the proposed sites in Hobart had a ‘‘ dreadful GP shortage’’ and an existing governmentowned clinic, the Clarence Community Health Centre, had proved a ‘‘ thorn in (state health minister) Lara Giddings’ side’’ because it was perpetually short of staff despite offering doctors cars and other perks for working there.
‘‘ We are being bombarded (with job advertising) by corporate clinics, which are setting up here like mushrooms,’’ Alexander said. ‘‘ The thing that’s killing everything is workforce — and the thing that will kill this Labor plan is workforce.’’
However, some other GPs are more optimistic. Tony Hobbs, chairman of the Australian General Practice Network, says assuming the new clinics are not foisted on communities in competition with established doctors, and that GPs are not forced to bulkbill, Labor’s model will be ‘‘ attractive’’ to doctors. This is because it removes the need for GPs to spend tens of thousands buying into practices, which they fear they might never be able to sell when they want to leave an area.
‘‘ I think there’s evidence that it will attract the workforce,’’ Hobbs said. Even if the scheme encourages existing suburban GPs to merge into a new clinic, this might keep them in the workforce for an extra five to 10 years, and help ease workforce pressures by preventing early retirements.
Under Labor’s plans, the Super Clinics are expected to comprise five or more private GPs, providing after-hours care as well as allied health services such as physiotherapy and podiatry. While tailored to local needs, many will also have facilities for visiting specialists, on-site nurses, community health education and medical training facilities for medical students and GP registrars.
They will be located in areas with currently poor services — including areas with a low share of proceeds from the Medicare Safety Net — and poor infrastructure, and where they are likely to ease pressure on hospitals, meaning most will be in regional towns or outer-metropolitan areas.
Tenders to run the clinics will be open to local consortiums of existing GPs or divisions of general practice, or other bodies such as town councils. Tenders that involve patients being bulk-billed will be preferred, but GPs will be free to practise privately. Ms Roxon rejected an earlier charge by the Australian Medical Association that the scheme would amount to a ‘‘ bulk-billing closed shop’’. Doctors joining the clinics would be eligible for relocation incentives of up to $15,000.
Clinic push: Nicola Roxon announcing the Brisbane centre with health minister Stephen Robertson, left, and local candidate Graham Perrett