November 29, 2021

I proudly second the motion by my colleague and friend the member for Newcastle, defending the Hunter GP After Hours Access service and calling on the government to urgently reverse its draconian cuts, because the truth is that the GP After Hours Access service is a Hunter institution that has touched the lives of every single Hunter family. I'm yet to meet someone who hasn't had a family member or a friend call on this great service to get them through a tough time. My own family, with two young kids, has been to the GP clinic many times—many times—and we've got phenomenal service, and, importantly, we've avoided a trip to the emergency department, saving taxpayers lots of money.

The facts are these. This service receives 70,000 phone calls a year; 25,000 are immediately triaged and told that they can see their normal GP on a weekday or take some paracetamol or some other treatment. That's straightaway 25,000 visits to the emergency department avoided. Then the remaining 45,000 callers are given appointments at the GP clinic, again avoiding a huge weight on the emergency department, which is much more expensive to run than a GP clinic. The truth is that this service, which costs $4½ million a year to run, saves nearly $20 million a year in taxpayers' funds that would have gone to emergency departments. The truth is that, when the Belmont clinic had to close temporarily because a nurse got sick, the waiting time at the Belmont Hospital Emergency Department blew out from two hours to six hours—a great anecdotal example of how this service saves taxpayers money. It means that patients in my community don't have to wait for hours and hours and hours in an emergency department for conditions that can be treated by a visit to the GP.

That's why the current Liberals' cut of $560,000 so tragic. This cut of $560,000 will close the equivalent of two clinics. It will mean that the hours that my local clinic at Belmont Hospital will be halved on the weekend, when people need it most. It means that, of the 70,000 funded consultations, 15,000 hours are cut straightaway.

The letter from Minister Hunt that Labor MPs received was a disgrace. Minister Hunt defended the cut. He defended the cut to this great GP service. And the previous speaker, the member for Bowman, in Brisbane, defended the cut, quite bizarrely. He didn't have a single fact right about what this service does, how it's funded, its meaning for our community, but he defended the cuts, just like Minister Hunt.

This is an interesting debate because I'm yet to see a single coalition MP come to the chamber to defend the cuts; they've all gone missing. The member for New England, the Deputy Prime Minister—the great hero of the Hunter, if you've ever seen him on Sky 'news after dark'—is nowhere to be seen. He's in hiding, like the coward that he is, not defending the cuts—I withdraw. He has gone missing, he is hiding from these cuts, because he is ashamed of what his own government is doing. The truth is there is a review on Minister Hunt's desk, and if he accepts it—and we've got no reason to believe that he won't accept it—it will slash the remaining $4 million of funding to $1 million. He'll slash it from $4 million to $1 million. If that happens, the service is gone. It's kaput. It will disappear. The remaining four clinics will have to be closed, and this great service will be gone from our community. Families will have to wait longer at the emergency department to get treatment or they won't be able to see a doctor, and that would be a great tragedy. Minister Hunt has refused to rule that out. In fact, from the tone of his letter, there is a very good likelihood he will accept that review's recommendations and kill the GP Access After Hours service.

This is the fourth attack on Hunter Health outcomes that we have seen from this government recently. We've seen the cut to the bulk-billing incentive that's forcing constituents of mine in Shortland to pay more to see a doctor. We've seen the reclassification of our area from an area of GP shortage to a bizarre metropolitan classification, which means that it is incredibly hard to find a doctor—and if you do get into one you have to wait an extraordinarily long time to actually see them. And we have the cuts to the Medicare Benefits Schedule that make it much more expensive to get treatment.

The truth is that the coalition government do not give a fig about good health outcomes for the people of the Hunter and Central Coast. They do not care about it. You only have to look at their actions to know that. That's why all the Labor MPs are calling on the government to reverse the cuts that hurt every single constituent of mine in the seat of Shortland.