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March 3, 2024

GP tax ‘will swamp north coast hospitals’

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Emergency departments in seven hospitals across the northern rivers would be swamped by an extra 10,000 patients every three months if the federal government’s controversial $7 GP co-payment on doctor visits goes ahead, the state opposition has claimed.

The figures, based on the NSW government’s own data modelling, show a massive 27 per cent annual jump in emergency-department admissions as patients will present for non-urgent treatment due to the GP tax, according to NSW Labor.

But the National Party’s Tweed MP Geoff Provest has dismissed the claim, saying there is no current plan to impose the co-payment and the issue is a Labor ’scare campaign’.

However, Mr Provest added that his government has expressed its ‘strong concerns about such a proposal to its federal counterpart’.

The co-payment is one of a number of unpopular budget measures which has stalled in the Senate by Labor, the Greens and the Palmer United Party.

The claim hospitals would be flooded as a result of the co-payment as suggested by NSW Health data modelling figures was made in a joint statement by the region’s Labor MPs and candidates yesterday.

Labor’s Tweed candidate Ron Goodman said thousands of people would be forced to present at emergency departments because they wouldn’t be able to afford to go to a doctor, and north coast hospitals and their staff would be stretched to handle the ‘flood of patients’.

‘The figures show an extra 10,065 patients, every three months, would be forced to use north coast’s emergency departments because they will be unable to afford the Liberal-Nationals GP tax,’ Mr Goodman said.

The modelling data and statement was issued jointly by Mr Goodman, Richmond MP Justine Elliot, shadow health minister Walt Secord, Lismore’s Labor candidate Isaac Smith, Ballina candidate Paul Spooner and Clarence candidate Trent Gilbert.

They say the north coast could be one of the hardest hit regions in NSW to be hit by the $7 GP tax.

‘A government briefing paper prepared in early May for the premier and released by Labor has found that the Abbott tax would devastate NSW emergency departments (EDs) and affect patient care. It will choke hospitals with people seeking free treatment and avoiding the GP tax,’ the joint statement said.

‘NSW Health’s Health System Information and Performance Reporting Branch modelling for the Department of Premier and Cabinet found:

* an increase in state-wide emergency department attendances Statewide by 500,000 a year;
* a 27 per cent increase in patients presenting to EDs due to an additional co-payment rather than seeing a local GP for free;
* the co-payment will increase the percentage of patients deferring a visit to a GP due to cost from the current five per cent; and
* an increase will mean an extra $80 million a year in extra costs to EDs.’

Mr Secord said ‘the GP tax will mean that waiting for treatment in emergency departments will get longer at north coast emergency departments as extra numbers of people will turn up for treatment for things they used to take to their GP’.

Mrs Elliot said ‘dedicated staff will do their best for patients, but they have to deal with Tony Abbott and NSW premier Mike Baird slashing healthcare funding, closing hospital wards, ripping out access to new equipment and now imposing a $7 GP tax.’

Mr Smith said ‘the GP tax is bad policy and is bad for north coast families. Sadly, the National Party cuts health services and pushes privatisation of our health system.’

The Labor politicians said the $7 GP tax has also been ‘roundly criticised by doctors, nurses, patients’ groups and the Australian Medical Association’.

‘Earlier this year, the AMA website published a study which found that if an additional four patients an hour turned up at NSW public hospitals because of their inability to afford the GP co-payment – the duration of an average emergency department visit would blow out from 5.6 to 8.5 hours,’ the statement said.

In his reponse, Mr Provest told Echonetdaily that ‘Labor continues to beat up this scare campaign’.

‘There is no GP co-payment, the NSW government has expressed its strong concerns about such a proposal to its federal counterpart, and a visit to the hospital emergency department remains a free service,’ he said.

‘Labor is wasting so much time and energy on something that does not exist – do Mr Secord, Ms Elliot and others believe that Labor is changing its stance and will support the GP co-payment in future? If so, they should come clean.’

Mr Provest also attached health minister Jillian Skinner’s media release on the issue from 8 October in which she said the coalition ‘has made it clear we will not charge a co-payment for emergency department treatment.

‘Our emergency departments will continue to deliver free public health care to patients across the state,’ Mrs Skinner said.

‘Following public discussion of a potential recommendation in the National Commission of Audit, flagging a GP co-payment, the NSW Ministry of Health developed rudimentary scenarios relating to potential impacts on hospital emergency departments,’ she said.

‘The NSW Ministry of Health has undertaken no detailed modelling on potential impacts since the federal budget, handed down in May and I have not commissioned any modelling.

‘I have written to my federal counterpart regarding the potential introduction of a GP co-payment,’
Mrs Skinner said.

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  1. The proposed co-payment is nothing less than a ideological and unjust removal of equitable access to universal health care. It is designed to reduce the frequency of access to healthcare by the most disadvantaged – the unwaged, the low waged, the chronically unwell, the mentally ill.

    The way it is structured it is not just s co-payment for the GP visit, it is also a payment to be levied on EVERY attendance for imaging (ie XRAY, CT scan, ultrasound), and EVERY pathology visit. It may even apply to pharmacy. For many patients this would mean some hundreds of $$ a year. For families the cost will be significant.

    It would make little difference to the well off. But it would deter less well off, or families, from accessing health care. What’s more, if put in place this will be increased (sorry, “indexed”) in the future almost certainly.

    FIGHT this now, or universal health care (thank you Gough) is gone. If you want to see what that looks like – go to the States, and watch the madness of the health ‘have’s’ and ‘have-not’s’.


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