TRANSCRIPT: GP Access After Hours about to close due to Morrison Government funding cuts

28 October 2021



SUBJECTS: GP Access After Hours set to close in Newcastle 

SHARON CLAYDON, MEMBER FOR NEWCASTLE: Well, not content with having stolen all the vaccines from Newcastle and the Hunter region in the midst of Sydney's crisis, leaving our region, way behind on vaccine rates. Today we learn that six, well, eight long years now of this government having Frozen Medicare rebates and cuts to Medicare, an essential service, a GP Access After Hours Service is about to close in my electorate of Newcastle. This is the story breaking today in Newcastle. This is what everyone wakes up to - access to your bulk-billing GPs now denied. Bulk billing rates in Newcastle are already shocking. This is a service supplying essential health care to more than 50,000 patient visits every year. They run a nurse triage telephone service, taking 70,000 calls every year. With the closure of the clinic at the Calvary Mater Hospital and the reduced hours now at the four remaining clinics, it's estimated that some 15,000 people, who have previously relied on this bulk-billing service to keep themselves and their families healthy, will now go without access to affordable healthcare. This is the human cost of freezing Medicare rebates for six long years now, of removing bulk-billing incentive payments from regions like Newcastle and the Hunter. This is what it means to people on the ground - essential healthcare services closing the doors on the eve of Christmas. So, come next year, this service which has served our region for more than 20 years is going to face a very reduced level of service and that means very poor outcomes for our regions. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned about some reports that GPs are being abused by people who they refuse to give a vaccine exemption to?

CLAYDON: No such reports in my region. We are desperate to get vaccines and people have been lining up literally at every clinic available in order to be vaccinated. I've had zero reports of anybody, having any trouble of getting vaccines certificates. What I am worried about is people having access to quality affordable health care. And you know, this is why it was so important for Labor to have set up the senate committee looking at the lack of access to affordable health care in outer-metro, rural and regional areas. The work of that committee is going to be essential in trying to get to the bottom of what is happening in regions like Newcastle. This is the second biggest city in New South Wales. You know this GP Access After Hours service was established to take pressure off emergency departments. It's done a sterling job in that regard. What's going to happen? We already know that every state and territory in Australia has written to the Commonwealth begging for additional funding for hospitals right now because of the pressures from COVID. If you remove access to afterhours services that were explicitly designed to take pressure off EDs, you’re just going to pile that on to an already overstretched and under-resourced hospital system. It is a really dumb public health policy. I’m again calling on the minister, as I have every single parliamentary term now, to stop chopping funds from healthcare services in my electorate. Thank you.