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$7 million dilemma

Thursday, 2nd June, 2011

AMA won't support clinic if it competes with established GPs

By John Casey

Broken Hill's proposed $7 million GP Super Clinic will not have the support of the Australian Medical Association if it operates in competition to the city's existing private practices.

The newly-elected president of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Steve Hambleton, said the federal government would do better to support existing private practices in Broken Hill who have already shown a strong commitment to the community.

"I think the federal government needs to look at Broken Hill quite sensitively and consider directly assisting the current operators," Dr Hambleton said.

"What we are seeing in many rural and regional areas is that these Super Clinics are set up in competition to existing services and that just doesn't make sense.

"It is unfair that doctors already existing in the community have their own operations put at risk by the arrival of a Super Clinic which presents a terrible dilemma for the incumbent operators who may have already put their houses on the line to establish the necessary infrastructure," Dr Hambleton continued.

This predicament is already confronting Outback Family Practice which operates in Thomas Street and the South Medical Centre in Patton Street.

"The proposed Super Clinic tendering process and its competitive nature has been a source of great frustration for us," Outback Family Practice joint owner Dr Ros Menzies said.

"We have had plans on the drawing board for some time to expand our operation, but until we know exactly what is happening with the Super Clinic our future is stuck in limbo.

"My partner Dr Funmi Komolafe and all our staff would feel much better when the Super Clinic decision is made and we have some certainty about the future," Dr Menzies continued.

Applications for the proposed GP Super Clinic closed on December 21 last year and according to a spokesman for the Federal Health and Ageing Minister Nicola Roxon, the assessment process is on-going.

"These assessment periods can be quite complex as the department works through the negotiations," the spokesman said.

"It is not normal practice for us to comment on the negotiations while they are continuing," he added.

It is now more than three years since the Federal government promised to roll out 36 GP Super Clinics across the country and just 10 are operating.

The program has been constantly criticised by the Opposition with Liberal MP Andrew Southcott, a former doctor, claiming that visiting a GP Super Clinic would always cost taxpayers more than a trip to a local medical centre or family practice.

"After more than three years, the taxpayer contribution to a visit to a GP Super Clinic is more than $450 per visit on top of Medicare," he told the Sunday Herald Sun.

"They have the same Medicare cost structures except that with the GP Super Clinics, the buildings have been taxpayer-funded."

However, a spokesman for Minister Roxon said the calculations reported in the Sunday Herald Sun were "grossly misleading".

"The article relied on data provided by the Liberal Party," a spokesman for the Minister said.

"They attempted to assess the value of the GP Super Clinic program after just one year, when, in fact, each GP Super Clinic will have a life span of at least 20 years.

"The Government strongly rejects its claims," the spokesman continued.

Dr Menzies said that regardless of the outcome of the GP Super Clinic process, she and Dr Komolafe were committed to expanding their practice in Broken Hill.

"Everyone here at Outback Family Practice has worked very hard to establish this clinic," Dr Menzies said.

"It is so rewarding when you see the results we have been able to achieve and hear the positive feedback from people."

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