Liberals’ $7 GP tax to hit Hunter hospitals hard

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Health services in Newcastle and the Hunter will be hit hard under the Liberals’ plans for a $7 GP tax - with new figures showing John Hunter Hospital emergency department being swamped by more than 19,000 extra patients a year. 

NSW Health modelling indicates that an additional 19,521 patients would be forced to use John Hunter’s Emergency Department (ED) each year as they will be unable to pay the GP tax.

From July 2013 to June 2014, 72,301 people visited the emergency department, up 3 per cent on the last year. However, under the GP tax, annual admissions are projected to swell even further to more than 92,000 putting a strain on the Hunter health system. (This figure is based on NSW Health’s estimate of 27 per cent more patients.)

In the most recent quarter April to June 2014 39 per cent of patients at John Hunter emergency department waited more than four hours the national benchmark for treatment; admission or discharge. The waiting time for treatment will increase due to the GP tax.

Today NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson, Shadow Health Minister Walt Secord and Labor candidates Tim Crakanthorp (Newcastle) and Jodie Harrison (Charlestown) visited John Hunter Hospital to oppose the tax saying Newcastle could be one of the hardest hit regions in the State.

Mr Robertson said: “Hunter hospitals can’t afford Tony Abbott's $7 GP tax and this Saturday residents in Charlestown and Newcastle have a chance to send the Liberals a message that we will not cop this cash grab on the back of the sickest people in our community.

"Tony Abbott is trying to implement a tax that will destroy our health system and smash the emergency rooms at places like John Hunter Hospital and Mike Baird is letting him get away with it.

“Even though the Liberals have cut and run from the Hunter and are not standing candidates in the by- elections, Saturday is an opportunity to send the Liberals a clear message that we want someone who will stand up to Tony Abbott over his savage budget.

“The GP tax will mean that waiting times for treatment in emergency departments will get longer at John Hunter as thousands of extra people turn up with health complaints they used to take to their GP.

“It is hard to imagine a worse proposal for Hunter hospitals that are already failing to meet the national emergency waiting time benchmark.

"Last week the Premier had the opportunity to stand up to Tony Abbott and say the community will not cop his GP tax instead he failed to voice any dissent."

A NSW Government briefing paper prepared in early May for the Premier and released by the NSW Labor Opposition 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.

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 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.

    Shadow Minister for the Hunter Sonia Hornery called on Premier Mike Baird to "stand up to Tony Abbott" and demand the co-payment plan be dropped, adding it would "hurt patients and hospital staff". “The GP tax is bad policy and is bad for Hunter families,” Ms Hornery said.

    Labor Candidate for Newcastle Tim Crakanthorp said: “The pain of Tony Abbott’s healthcare cuts will be felt in Newcastle. Families and pensioners will be forced to use the local emergency department if they can’t afford to pay the GP Tax.”

    Labor Candidate for Charlestown Jodie Harrison said: “Thousands of people will be forced to turn up in emergency departments to avoid paying the fee to their local GP.”

    Shadow Minister for Health Walt Secord added: “John Hunter Hospital will be stretched to handle the flood of patients that will result from the $7 GP tax. We know Mike Baird has cut $3 billion from our health system – and now Tony Abbott’s co-payment and budget cuts are set to place extreme pressure on Hunter hospitals.”

    The $7 GP tax has been roundly criticised by the Federal and NSW Labor Opposition, 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.

    BAIRD’S DISASTROUS RECORD ON HUNTER HEALTH

  • Closing the public eye clinic at John Hunter Hospital for nearly two years;

  • Abolishing the free Hunter health counselling service that used to provide therapy to 1400 patients a

    year at sites including Newcastle, Toronto, Cessnock and Nelson Bay;

  • Failing to resource Hunter ambulances resulting in patient waits of between one to two hours;

  • Unacceptably long emergency waits at John Hunter, Belmont, Calvary Mater and Maitland in breach

    of the national target to treat 81 per cent of patients within four hours and

  • Blowouts in cancer surgery waits at Calvary Mater; now almost the longest in the country. 

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