‘That was a lie’: Pleading GP clinic calls out government inaction

Jul 27, 2023

BLATANT lies, cancelled and postponed meetings, and a lack of communication from government has left a battling general practice clinic “disgusted” and disheartened as it prepares to permanently shut its doors to about 1000 patients.

Cardwell Family Practice has operated for years without a fulltime GP, relying on costly locums and after months of pleas for government assistance, announced it would permanently close on September 1.

Owners Julie McKay, a registered nurse and Carmen Edmondson had even offered the clinic up for free, just to keep primary health services available in the remote community.

Their looming deadline made worse by the “politics” in resurrecting the situation, which Ms McKay said was overwhelming for a health practitioner fighting for her community.

In December last year, the clinic, through Katter’s Australian Party MP Bob Katter’s office notified the Federal Government of its struggles. It received “generic” advice from the Primary Health Network, which Ms McKay said was “not applicable” to the clinic as it didn’t have a GP on staff.

Ms McKay said in mid-June, federal and state government departments including the Townsville Hospital and Health Service were notified of the clinic’s intention to close.

“We heard from no one after that,” Ms McKay said.

On July 10, that intent was relayed publicly, including to patients and to Mr Katter’s office, which urgently requested intervention from the Federal Health Minister and his department.

In the seven days following the public announcement, Mr Katter’s office was advised the federal health department was investigating the issue, looking at supplying locums through Queensland Health Workforce and that it was communicating with Ms McKay’s clinic.

“That was a lie. They’d never made contact with us at all,” Ms McKay said.

Once called out by Mr Katter’s office, the federal health department on Tuesday July 18 organised an online meeting with the clinic for Thursday July 20.

“So almost two weeks later, they finally agreed to talk to us. But we’re not experts in politics and they had already lied about talking to us so it was hard for us to trust them.

“So we told them we were going to invite Bob and (KAP Hinchinbrook MP) Nick Dametto and provided their email addresses. We heard nothing back about that.”

When Ms McKay, Mr Dametto and Mr Katter logged onto the meeting, it was abruptly ended.

“I spoke to the man from the department, and he said because the state and federal members were on it, the meeting is now postponed, and that was it.

“We’re from a small country town, we’re educated in health, but we don’t know politics. We don’t want to be fighting with government, we just want a doctor. We asked  Nick and Bob to join because they’re the only people who have listened, we know they’re fighting for us and because the government had lied to us, we  needed someone we could trust.

“All we’ve asked for is for someone to talk to us, and it’s taken months. The PHN hasn’t visited us, and on Tuesday (July 26) we had a ‘link test’ for our meeting with the department. I don’t understand why they couldn’t just talk to us on the phone, instead of testing links.

“I just feel let down by the whole process. It feels like no matter how much you fight, it feels like nothing is going to change. Even the patients are telling me that’s it’s disappointing, no one from the health service has come to visit.”

Ms McKay said the postponed meeting was now scheduled for Thursday, July 27.

Local state MP Mr Dametto had exhausted efforts to alert state-based authorities, particularly cautious nearby hospitals in Ingham and Tully would bear the brunt of the clinic’s closure.

“We were invited into that meeting by our constituent – Cardwell Family Medical, who alerted the federal health department that their members would be in the meeting and the department didn’t respond,” Mr Dametto said.

“We logged on, and we had a bureaucrat throw a ‘tantrum’ and start playing politics on an issue that affects humans.

“So while we’ve got local members sitting down with their constituents and trying to find a practical solution, we’ve got bureaucrats more worried about who’s in a meeting and protecting their master’s political position, rather than work with us.

“We joined the meeting in good faith to find a solution, but we’ve got bureaucrats wanting to work in secrecy. The reason Julie and Carmen invited us is because they had no faith in this government.”

Mr Katter said the disastrous situation at Cardwell was another example of government failing to govern, and he would be asking the Federal Health Minister if he actually had control of his department.

“I would like to know if the minister can reassure the residents of Cardwell that the Department of Health is accountable to him, has respect and a willingness to work with state and federal representatives, and has the delivery of health care across Australia as a prominent and overriding priority,” Mr Katter said.

“Does this minister believe it’s reasonable his department can give assurances it was communicating with Cardwell Family Practice, when it wasn’t, adding to the stress of already stretched medical staff, and does the minister think it’s reasonable the department can just terminate a meeting in two minutes because they were unhappy with the invitees, despite receiving notification of attendance.”