ACT News

Canberrans face long waits for GP visits as frustration grows: report

Canberrans face some of the longest waits for urgent appointments with GPs in Australia, with only 58.3 per cent of patients able to see a doctor within four hours, according to the Productivity Commission.

The annual Report on Government Services, which was released on Wednesday, found 25.1 per cent of ACT patients felt they waited too long for an appointment with their GP, higher than the national average of 22.6 per cent.

Close to 20 per cent of ACT patients waited between four and 24 hours for an urgent appointment with a GP last year, with another 26 per cent waiting longer than a day.

Minister for Health Simon Corbell said the delays were "a serious area of concern as we know the flow on effects from GP shortages have a significant impact on other health services, such as the emergency departments in the ACT".

"Given the flow on effect and the issues it creates for ACT residents, the ACT Government has invested in supporting the GP workforce."

The productivity commission report found there were 50,486 potentially avoidable "GP-type presentations" to ACT emergency departments during 2013-14, which was an increase on the 44,535 presentations recorded during 2008-9.  

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Mr Corbell also acknowledged that the ACT had the joint-highest proportion (6.9 per cent) of people reporting that they had delayed visits to the doctor due to financial costs.

"While it is fantastic that we have been able to increase the number of GPs in Canberra and raise the number of bulk billed patients, it is unfortunate that there are people in our community who still have to consider the cost when deciding whether or not to visit a doctor,"

But Mr Corbell was quick to blame a Prime Minister struggling in the polls and a Liberal party faced with ongoing leadership speculation.   

"If Tony Abbott and his federal Liberal colleagues have their way, and new fees or reduced Medicare payments are introduced, it will hurt our vulnerable community members the most," he said.

"The only consideration a sick person should have when thinking about visiting their doctor is whether or not they need medical attention, not whether or not they can afford the visit."

But Mr Corbell said there was still some good news in the productivity commission's report, including improvements to waiting times for elective surgery.

"Our median wait time for surgery has improved from 51 days in 2012-13 to 48 days in 2013-14," he said.

"The ACT median waiting time is now the lowest it has been since 2003."

Mr Corbell said the availability of GPs per 100,000 people continued to increase in the ACT, from 65.5 in 2010-11 to 72 in 2013-14.

"The ACT also has the highest percentage (42.6 per cent) of female GPs as a proportion of all GPs of all jurisdictions, with the Australian average standing at 33.5 per cent," he said.

The proportion of GP visits that were bulk billed had continued to increase, rising from 50.2 per cent recorded in 2011-12 to 57.2 per cent last year.

"This has increased from a low in 2005-06 of 44.2 per cent," he said.

The report made reference to the funding for up to 500 extra elective surgeries in the 2014-15 budget, along with the provision of 36 new hospital beds and digital innovations.

"For the first time in the ACT, patients are able to access real-time information on Emergency Department waiting times at Canberra and Calvary hospitals and make informed decisions on which hospital to visit or to consider alternative service providers," the report said. 

"Nationally, 64.2 per cent of people who saw a GP for urgent care waited less than four hours in 2013-14.

"Around 10.0 per cent waited from 4 to less than 24 hours, and 25.8 per cent waited for 24 hours or more."