‘Need an answer now’: Katter demands immediate GP relief for closing practice

Jul 18, 2023

KATTER’S Australian Party MP Bob Katter is placing blame directly on the Federal Health Minister for the closure of another North Queensland general practice which had been crying out for help for months.

Cardwell Family Practice, operated by receptionist Carmen Edmondson and registered nurse Julie McKay will close the town’s only full-time clinic’s doors to its 900 patients on September 1, after constantly struggling to recruit doctors and relying on locums.

Ms Edmondson and Ms McKay have even offered to give the practice away at no cost, including to both State and Federal health departments.

The clinic’s woes were first brought to the attention of Federal Health Minister Mark Butler in December 2022 by Mr Katter.

Following the clinic’s July 10 announcement of its intent to close, the minister’s response to Mr Katter on Friday, July 14 was that his office had requested The Queensland Health Workforce offer locums to the clinic.

Mr Katter said the minister’s office also conceded that as a private business, it was the owner’s decision to close and that his government “had inherited the problem” but had addressed with “solutions” such as increases to the Medicare rebate.

“They are just washing their hands clean of the problem here,” Mr Katter said.

“You write the laws that created this problem – a shortage of GPs (such as distribution priority area rules). You’re the ones setting the wages for the public health doctors (which outcompetes private practice).

“Now it is your responsibility to fix it. It is your responsibility to provide essential services, no matter how inefficient, to the people.

“Increases to Medicare aren’t attracting and incentivising GPs to work in rural areas are they? People are telling me it feels like they’re being abandoned by the government.”

Mr Katter said while he accepted long-term, holistic changes were required to address the nation’s GP shortage, in the case of Cardwell Family Practice, a drastic and immediate solution was required.

“The government employs thousands of public doctors, you can’t tell me they can’t send just one to Cardwell to keep the practice open.

“If there’s a better idea, well, let’s hear it. But in this case I’m not listening to ‘how much your investing in colleges,’ or what you’re doing ‘to improve the health networks.’ We need an answer now.”

Mr Katter said as for long-term solutions he would continue advocating for mandatory one-year rural service for new GPs as well as suite of initiatives including:   Improving international recruitment and migration, increased Medicare rebates, increased rural and regional benefits for GPs and associated medical professionals, reducing overlapping and unnecessary administrative burdens.

Cardwell will be the sixth GP to close in Kennedy following closures at Innisfail, Mission Beach (two), Atherton and Julia Creek, noting that Julia Creek is recently open again after a $550,000 salary was offered to attract a doctor to the region.

Hill MP Shane Knuth said worryingly of the six closures in the federal electorate, three of them were in his patch.

“We have big concerns and what we’re seeing is overstretched medical centres leading to patients that are quite desperate and going to the emergency department just to see a doctor,” Mr Knuth said.

“Governments at both state and federal levels need to work and communicate together so that we can get a better set of packages to get GPs to work in rural and regional Queensland.”

Mr Knuth also called for regular Medicare rebate reviews and the need to address visa processing issues.