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Bulk billing crisis forces pensioner out

Thursday, 6th January, 2011

By Andrew Robertson

The number of local GPs who bulk bill is set to increase later this month but that’s cold comfort for people who are unable to see a doctor now.

One of them is Gregory Scott, who said he was made to feel like a “second class citizen” after being turned away by his doctor because he could not afford $58 for a consultation.

Mr Scott said he went into Dr Nachiappan’s Surgery on the town square this week seeking a referral but was told there were no bulk bill appointments available and he should try again at the end of the month.

The pensioner said he had been seeing the same doctor at the surgery for four or five years up until about the middle of last year, when the GP decided to stop bulk billing.

Since then he has found it harder and harder to get a bulk bill appointment at the surgery. “It makes you feel like a second class citizen; just because I’m poor I can’t get in,” Mr Scott said.

“I just think they’re greedy people. What am I suppose to do, lay down and die?” Nachiappan’s Surgery said yesterday that Mr Scott was turned away because the only doctor who bulk billed at the surgery was fully booked and was leaving soon.

Office manager Lynley Rebbeck said Mr Scott’s experience was “regrettable”. “It occurred during the festive season when our medical services generally and bulk billing services especially was stretched to the limits,” she said.

Ms Rebbeck said a lack of local doctors who bulk billed was putting extra pressure on the remaining surgeries. 

The city lost two GPs following the suspension and subsequent retirement last year of Dr Phil Chapman, and Dr John Rolleston, who was also suspended and has since sold his Thomas Street practice.

Dr Chapman, who closed his South practice, only bulk billed, while a large number of Dr Rolleston’s patients also did not have to pay for a consultation.

“It’s made things quite difficult,” Ms Rebbeck told the BDT. She said bulk bill appointments were always the first to go at the surgery which did offer Mr Scott an emergency appointment.

“In the interest of sound clinical practice we have emergency appointments available daily although once bulk billing facilities are exhausted, then only the paying slots area available.”

Ms Rebbeck said since the closure of Chapman’s, Nachiappan’s had been the only surgery that had at least one full time bulk bill doctor. The surgery is expecting two new bulk billing doctors later this month and a third will arrive in February for six months.

“We also have nurse and allied health care professional appointments on bulk billing basis,” Ms Rebbeck said. “We understand that it may not be possible to keep everyone happy all the time, however we are a general practice committed to our patients and strive to provide quality care.”

Last year Outback Family Practice co-owner, Dr Funmi Komolafe, defended that practice against criticism from a local whose friend was unable to see a bulk billing doctor. 

Dr Komolafe said even though there was no full bulk billing doctor at the practice, more than 60 per cent of patients were not charged because of discretionary bulk billing.

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