Too few doc­tors ham­per clin­ics

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health -

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.

Pic­ture: David Sproule

Clinic push: Ni­cola Roxon an­nounc­ing the Bris­bane cen­tre with health min­is­ter Stephen Robert­son, left, and lo­cal can­di­date Gra­ham Perrett

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