A packed auditorium at the Armidale Bowling Club last night voted to send a clear message to both the state and federal governments that the Armidale community wants immediate health care reform.
Over 100 people, including many medical practitioners, a representative of the AMA, Anaiwan elders, representatives of both Uralla and Armidale Councils, leaders from the University of New England, and Member for Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall, joined concerned patients for the meeting about our health services hosted by local think tank New England Visions 2030. Federal Member for New England Barnaby Joyce was unable to attend as he was in Canberra for parliament.
The gathering was emotional at times as people spoke of their fear and concerns with the rapid degradation of health services. Multiple votes of thanks were given to hard working health professionals for the care they provide.
Headline speaker Dr Vicki Howell, the new chair of the New England Division of General Practice (NEDGP), empathised with the fear and explained that doctors and medical practice staff were doing what they can. She detailed the six proposals developed by the NEDGP, including implementation of the Single Employer Model for GP training and lifting the cap on the number of trainees, reinstating the distribution priority areas that required international doctors to work in rural areas, funding of rural general practice nurses, funding an after hours care service and demanding the hospital be adequately staffed.
She also revealed that most of the local practices have abandoned after hours and nursing home care in an attempt to deal with the workload in their clinics, which means that more people are being sent to emergency at the hospital.
“We have ramping at the ambulance bays at both Tamworth and Armidale hospitals.”
“When a receptionist speaks to a patient of an afternoon and says ‘I’m sorry… you’ll just have to go to ED’, it may mean you’ll just have to go to Tamworth.”
Associate Professor of General Practice and Acting Head of the School of Rural Medicine at UNE, Dr Michelle Guppy, said she does no know why governments are not investing in general practice.
“The evidence is there that general practice is cost effective and it works.”
“Why our government is not looking at increasing the funding to general practice to save money in the rest of the health system… I don’t know,” she said.
Former chair of the New England Health Service, Dr Jim Maher, revealed that he is one of the 6000 patients in Armidale that is now without a doctor following the recent retirement or resignation of 8 of the town’s general practitioners. He spoke strongly in favour of breaking up the Hunter New England Health District, recalling the community’s opposition to the merger, and the reinstatement of local governing boards.
“I remember attending a protest… we spoke against the amalgamation [of the Hunter and New England health districts] and we talked about the problems we might get. We can see them now.”
Member for Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall also spoke strongly in favour of state and federal governments the implementation of the Single Employer Model that has been trialled in the Murumbidgee area and implemented state wide in Tasmania.
See Adam Marshall’s comments on the Single Employer Model on our dedicated opinion site The Net.
“That’s the problem with our weirdly constructed health system, is that you have two levels of government that are responsible for the two separate sides of the same coin, and the left hand never talks to the right hand.”
“The beauty of the single employer model is that it is an amalgam of both,” he said.
Mr Marshall said the NSW Government had applied to the federal government for the necessary exemptions to enable the single employer model to be implemented, with the New England to be priority number one for the new system. The change would see four new GPs in Inverell, three at Glen Innes, and around 12 in Armidale.
At the end of the discussion those in attendance voted unanimously to demand the implementation of the single employer model.