GP Access After Hours is the gold star service of after-hours care across the country.
For more than 20 years, members of the Hunter GP Association provided this crucial service to the community. But funding cuts by the former Liberal government meant that the GP Access After Hours service at the Calvary Mater Hospital closed on Christmas Eve 2021. The other after-hours clinics at Belmont Hospital, John Hunter Hospital, Maitland Hospital and Toronto Polyclinic were forced to reduce hours and their future was uncertain.
Hunter Labor members Sharon Claydon, Pat Conroy, Dan Repacholi and Meryl Swanson campaigned hard to restore services if elected to government at the 2022 election. In its budget, the Albanese government provided $28.7 million to restore the GP Access After Hour Services to full capacity.
This week is a significant milestone. After 16 months of being closed, the GP Access After Hours service at the Calvary Mater Hospital has reopened. GP Access After Hours services at the Westlakes Toronto clinic will expand their operating hours, and work is under way to ensure the opening hours at all clinics are fully restored in the coming months.
This funding means Hunter patients will be able to access face-to-face and telehealth primary care services outside business hours. These services are bulk billed - so they won't cost you, reducing the barrier to access care delivered by GPs and registered nurses, without ending up in the ED. Most importantly, this service will mean parents don't have to think twice about getting care for their sick child after hours.
As Health Minister, I've acknowledged after nine years of cuts and neglect from the former government it's never been harder to see a bulk-billed doctor. That's why the centrepiece of the budget was a commitment to strengthen Medicare with $6.1 billion of initiatives.
Most importantly, the government has made the largest investment in bulk-billing in the history of Medicare with $3.5 billion to triple the bulk-billing incentive.
This is a game changer for general practice. For a city such as Newcastle, the bulk-billing incentive for a standard bulk-billed consult will increase by more than a third. That increase will be even higher in regions such as the Hunter. A standard bulk-billed consult in Cessnock, for example, will rise by 50 per cent, from $50 to $75.
This will make healthcare more affordable for 11.6 million children under 16, pensioners, and other Commonwealth concession card holders across the country.
This opinion piece was published in the Maitland Mercury on Monday, 29 May 2023.