July 21, 2022

DR. GORDON REID: Thank you so much for coming out today and I want to, in particular, thank the owners and the doctors and the nurses here at the East Gosford family general practice. Thank you so much for hosting us. I, in particular, want to acknowledge Minister Pat Conroy, the member for Shortland and Assistant Minister, Emma McBride, the member for Dobell, for an important announcement today. We all know that here on the Central Coast, it has become harder and harder to access a GP. Our GP numbers are at low levels and one of the biggest issues that people present to our emergency departments with is that they can't access a GP in a timely fashion, or that they can't afford to see a GP and that has a ripple on effect right across our community and right into our hospitals. I'd now like to hand over to Assistant Minister Emma McBride to make an important announcement.

EMMA MCBRIDE: Thank you, Gordon, and thank you to minister Conroy, the member for Shortland for joining us here today. So, on behalf of the Albanese Labor Government and the health and aged care Minister Butler, I'm pleased to announce that today Labor is delivering on a core election commitment. As the Member for Robertson, Dr. Gordon Reid well knows from his experience working as an emergency doctor, we have a critical shortage of general practitioners on the Central Coast. People are waiting weeks for routine appointments. They're ending up in the already overstretched emergency departments of our local hospitals. This is a crisis and something that the Albanese Labor Government is determined to act on. So today I'm pleased to announce that the whole of the Central Coast will be classified a Distribution Priority Area, which will mean that practices such as this will now be a priority area. And we'll be able to recruit from a much larger pool of doctors, including international doctors and bonded medical program doctors. This is a next step in what is a big area of reform for the Albanese Labor Government to make sure that wherever you live, you can access quality healthcare close to home. It's absolutely critical for people living in communities like ours on the Central Coast. We know that the further you live outside of a big city, the worse your health outcomes are likely to be and we know that a big contributor to that is the lack of access to healthcare when you need it. The delays are people having to skip or avoid an appointment and then ending up getting worse. And then presenting to an emergency department or an out of hours service. We know this is an absolutely critical problem on the Central Coast. And I'm very pleased on behalf of Minister Butler to be able to make this announcement today with my colleagues. We have worked so hard to deliver this for the Central Coast. And as I said, it's a next step in an overall reform, which will mean better healthcare for people in communities like ours right across Australia. And I'd now like to hand over to Minister Conroy, the Member for Shortland.

PAT CONROY: Thank you, Emma, and thank you, Gordon, for being here today. And thank you to East Gosford Medical Practice for your very generous hospitality. This is great news for the Central Coast. The two most important issues that we campaigned on at the last federal election was helping with the cost of living and fixing a health crisis that's confronting all of Australia, but the Central Coast in particular. And the loss of the Distribution Priority Area affected this region greatly in my neck of the woods. Medical practices in Lake Munmorah, for example, lost half their doctors overnight. I had family after family, particularly family’s new to the area, saying they can't find a doctor. All the books are closed. They're having to travel an hour, an hour and a half back to their old doctor in Sydney for example, to get urgent medical assistance and that's unacceptable in a rich country like Australia, so I'm so glad that Labor is delivering. The new Australian Government is delivering on one of its core commitments, which is to allow this Central Coast area to be a Distribution Priority Area again, which means in practical terms, that we'll be able to recruit internationally trained doctors that gone through all the appropriate accreditation process and Commonwealth bonded doctors. These are doctors that go through university on scholarships, in return for practicing in areas of GP shortage. So, this means that we'll get more access to Australian trained doctors, and access to international doctors, and it means it'll be easier to see a doctor, and hopefully more affordable as well. So this is great news for the health outcomes for people on the Central Coast. I’d now like to invite our hosts, if they'd like to say anything about the challenges they face.

DR. STEPHEN KENNY: I'm just grateful that that this decision has been made, and that it's obviously going to have a flow through effect to how we run this practice and, and how hopefully, we have more options when it comes to finding staff to meet the staff shortfalls that we have. We have one doctor who's very unwell at the moment and is likely to be out of work for the next three months. And we you know, obviously covering the patient needs in that circumstance, is extremely difficult. So this sort of decision will allow us more options to be able to move forward and provide the service that we'd like to provide for the community.

JOURNALIST: Really, what was the last few months, even years, been like trying to get and retain doctors?

DR. KENNY: Well, as I said, it's sort of been a problem that's been going on for a decade, you know, maybe longer, really. We've had two partners retire from here. When we've had one or other partners, fall ill, or ones away, sometimes that happens at the same time, that can be a very difficult thing. I'm not sure exactly when, probably eight years ago, my one of my partners was overseas for three or four weeks, and my other partner fractured his hip at the same time and was out of action. And I was pretty much myself and one of our partners, we ran this on our own. So you know, it's not having that potential option of filling the need when you when you can one, which is obviously you know, this is more about permanent doctors or having people in part time or whatever. But we did find, for example, we had to apply for an exemption for a doctor trained in England to work here, but he could work at Lisarow or he could work at Greenpoint, because those areas were designated workforce shortage. This area has one practice that struggles to have find staff. And yet we weren't an area of workforce shortage, apparently. So it was puzzling, shall we say.

JOURNALIST: So you do think this is going to be much needed relief?

DR. KENNY: Look, I think it's a very good first step, and it's good to see that we've been listened to.

JOURNALIST: Fantastic, thanks so much. I've got a few questions just in general. So, with these areas, are they full DPA status, or some of them are partial? Does this encapsulate the entire central coast as a full DPA area?

MCBRIDE: So what this will mean is that every practice on the Central Coast will now be in a priority area. And so what that will mean, in practical terms, is that they can recruit doctors from a much wider pool of doctors. And as Dr. Kenny was saying, this has been a problem for a very long time on the Central Coast. When I first started practicing as a pharmacist in the late 90s on the Central Coast, we had challenges then, and the challenges now are much worse than they were then. So I know that this will mean for practices like this one here, that they'll now be able to have more options to be able to recruit doctors to meet the needs of our growing community. We know we've got lots of young families on the Central Coast and people aging so the demands on our health system are growing and they're growing rapidly. And this provides more options and it's a step in really being able to provide quality care when someone needs it and more affordably.

JOURNALIST: And I know that there have been some areas that have been under the MM2 status in Wyong that's caused some practices to think there might actually have to shut down. Is that model going to change for areas as well? Or does this new classification mean that the entire Central Coast can also pull from overseas?

MCBRIDE: So what this means is that the whole of the Central Coast will be classified as a distribution priority area. We are very aware and alive to the MM2 and the interaction with DPA and it's something that Minister Butler is very aware of, and I have raised issues and practices, both in Wyong and elsewhere who are facing those challenges. So, as Dr. Kenny has said, this is a step, it's another step. But there are wider issues that must be addressed, and that we're determined to work towards.

JOURNALIST: So is the next step going to be to make this whole area MM2?

MCBRIDE: What we're working on is a range of options. And Minister Butler is working very closely with the colleges and with the universities, with practices to be able to make sure that we're properly consulting, to be able to work on practical solutions, that will mean delivering the health outcomes that communities like ours deserve.

JOURNALIST: How quickly do you think we can see improvements in terms of the number of GPS available here on the Central Coast? Because obviously, the needs are here today.

MCBRIDE: This is something that we know from our community, that people are waiting weeks for routine appointments, that people who are new to the community haven't been able to find a GP or traveling back to Sydneyor an hour away to be able to see a GP, that they were seeing before. And we know that practices have been forced to close their books and unfortunately, we've seen practices close as well. So, what we're hoping is that with this announcement, that practices like this will have more options and we're hoping to see, in the short term, that that will see an increase in numbers of GPs, but we know that there's wider systemic reform, that is necessary and that we’re working towards to be able to make sure that wherever you live in Australia, you'll be able to get the quality care that you need when you need it.

JOURNALIST: Another major concern hasn't just been bringing GPs here, but retaining them and keeping them here on the Coast. Do you think this will help or have they going to be more measures to keep GPs?

MCBRIDE: I’ve spoken to medical students, I've spoken to universities, I've spoken to practice managers, I've listened to GPs. There are a raft of things that we are open to that we will be working towards, in order to make sure that we can not only recruit GPs to the Central Coast, but also retain them. So that people can have that continuity of care, that they and their family can see a GP, over decades to be able to get that continuity of care that they need and that they deserve.

JOURNALIST: A lot of people are also concerned at the moment with the loss of bulk billing services at local GPs and concerns that they can't afford to go to a doctor, which once again puts pressure on the hospital system. If you can't afford to go to the doctor, you turn up at the emergency, what's the Labor government doing to address those constraints?

MCBRIDE: This is something that as local MPs and as members of the incoming Labor Government, that we know is a really pressing and urgent need. Minister Conroy mentioned that, and this measure today not only helps to address GP shortages and access, but also affordability. So as I mentioned, this is a step and the next step in a range of things that we will need to do to make sure that general practice has the stability and certainty so that we can recruit and retain GPs, that they have the support that they need in order to provide the care to our local community.

CONROY: Obviously, on that issue, another of our election commitments was around Medicare Ultra Care Clinics. And this region has had two committed to, one in the Gosford region and one on the northern Central Coast. So those two will help with those category four and five visits to emergency department. People turning up to the emergency department because either they don't have a relationship with a GP, or they can't afford to see GP or if it's after hours. So those Medicare clinics will really help take the pressure off the emergency departments. And I want to pay tribute to the role of Mark Butler and Emma McBride and Gordon Reid in driving that process so the Central Coast will have two of those clinics. I'm struggling to think of another region that has received as big an allocation as the Central Coast in recognition of the large population here, the growing population and a population that does sometimes have a greater challenge in terms of getting in to see a doctor.

JOURNALIST: And I just have one quick question for Gordon if you don't mind. You've spoken at length about that one day on the wards yourself and that's what brought you into politics and yesterday, our report from the PHN came out highlighting the effects of COVID too GPS being a major emotional hit for them. Do you think that this new DPA classification is going to alleviate those pressures on GPs?

DR. REID: Look, I think the announcement today with regards to the DPA status for the Central Coast is going to be one piece of the puzzle to help alleviate pressure off general practice here on the Central Coast. Like Assistant Minister McBride said, it's about increasing the available pool of doctors that can come to our region that GP practices can recruit. And that's really important. That increases supply locally so that people have more choice and people have increased access. And as Minister Connery was saying, the establishment of an urgent care clinic, one in the north one in the south, a bulk billed Medicare urgent care clinic for adults and kids with extended operating hours, designed to take pressure not just off our emergency departments, but also take pressure off our general practices. And that's just part of a raft of measures that an Albanese Labor government, one has announced and two is delivering today thanks to the hard work of Minister Butler, Assistant Minister McBride, and Minister Conroy. We work together here as a team on the Central Coast and we take the issues and the concerns and the problems of the community, of GPs, of the constituents that we represent and we take them to Canberra and we deliver on those results, as seen today by this DPA announcement.

JOURNALIST: On those urgent care clinics, do we have any timeline or anything like that?

DR. REID: At the moment, we're in the consulting phase so we'll be working together with the PHN with the local health district and with other stakeholders with regards to the urgent care clinic in the north and the south. And I might ask Assistant Minister McBride to talk about that a bit further.

MCBRIDE: As Minister Conroy has said and Dr. Reid has said these urgent care centres are really important in communities like ours, where someone will be able to walk in, will be able to be bulk billed, and be able to get the care that they need. As Gordon said, we're in a consultation phase and we're keen to make sure that these are thoughtfully designed and carefully implemented, so that they work well with the existing health care services on the Central Coast, that they complement the work of general practice and that they work well with our local health district and our hospital services. So we're making sure that this is done in a very well thought out and consultative way so that we get the best outcomes for people and communities here on the Central Coast and across Australia.