Delays to GP super clinics revealed ahead of Senate Estimates hearings
SIX years after they were promised, six of the GP super clinics pledged during the 2007 election have still not started operation and four others pledged in 2010 do not even have a funding agreement.
While the Cairns GP super clinic has been operating at Edmonton for the past six months, centres promised for Mt Isa, Redcliffe, Townsville, Gladstone, Wallan and Waneroo are yet to be opened.
The delays in the program, supposed to bring 64 bulk billing and late-opening GP clinics to communities around Australia, are revealed in a departmental spreadsheet outlining progress on the $650 million program provided ahead of today's Senate Estimates hearings.
It shows the opening of five of the original clinics is running 14 months behind schedule. Two of the super clinics have been scrapped and three have required $13 million in extra funding.
Three of the delayed clinics (Mt Isa, Redcliffe Townsville) are where Labor needs to win seats if it is to hold on to power.
A consultant's report commissioned by the Department of Health on the first seven GP clinics to open, found only one GP super clinic was bulk billing all patients and it had to schedule appointments for just 10 minutes to achieve the volume required to make ends meet.
Some clinics had trouble attracting staff and patients because rival local doctors had run active campaigns against GP super clinics.
But the review found that "ultimately patients are being enabled to access multi-disciplinary primary health care, in buildings that support patients and staff, in an environment where care providers are working collaboratively".
Doctors are angry many of the 64 government-funded clinics promised over two elections are close to existing private practices.
"The AMA can't understand why the Government is spending taxpayers' money duplicating resources by building big clinics in opposition to existing medical practices," Australian Medical Association president Dr Steve Hambleton said.
Opposition Primary Healthcare spokesman Dr Andrew Southcott says "babies born at the time of these promises will already be at school before some of these clinics are open".
"The Coalition believes that it would have been better to harness existing general practices and encourage them to expand.
This would have achieved more, much quicker at a fraction of the cost of the Government's failed GP Super Clinic program," he said.
"It's yet another example of overpromising and under-delivering," he said.
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Working: The Edmonton GP super clinic is operating.