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Canberra GP laments closure of ‘wonderful inclusive’ clinic


Jolyon Attwooll


24/03/2023 3:27:44 PM

Dr Clara Tuck Meng Soo, known for her commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community, said Medicare’s decline has forced the clinic to shut its doors.

Canberra GP Dr Clara Tuck Meng Soo
Canberra GP Dr Clara Tuck Meng Soo is the founder of Hobart Place General Practice

A GP at the heart of a Canberra general practice known for its work with the city’s most marginalised people has said declining government support is forcing the clinic to close.
 
This week, patients at the Hobart Place General Practice founded by Dr Clara Tuck Meng Soo were informed of its closure at the end of April.
 
A message stated that several of the clinic’s doctors plan to retire this year, which along with the departure of the GP-in-training, would render the practice ‘financially unviable’.
 
The clinic, where Dr Tuck Meng Soo is the current GP principal, is known for catering to disadvantaged people and is highly regarded among the city’s gender diverse community.
 
Dr Tuck Meng Soo handed back her Order of Australia medal in 2021 to protest an Australia Day award given to Margaret Court, who has caused controversy with her views opposing homosexuality and transgender people.
 
‘The decision to close the practice, while precipitated by immediate events, has actually been many years in the making,’ Dr Tuck Meng Soo told newsGP.  
 
‘We found that we weren’t getting the support from governments to provide the non-judgmental and comprehensive healthcare that we really wanted to give all our patients, including people from many disadvantaged communities, so we have been cutting back on bulk-billed access to our services for several years.
 
‘This final decision is the culmination of this process.’
 
Holly Hazlewood is a transgender woman who has been a patient at the practice, which she described as a ‘safe haven’ for the city’s trans and gender diverse community.
 
‘It’s an eternal question that queer and gender diverse people ask: “what GP clinic can I go to that’s understanding?”,’ she said.
 
‘Hobart Place was very much a respected and a safe option for a lot of the trans and gender diverse community in Canberra.
 
‘I can imagine for some people trying to find another clinic could feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
 
‘People say just go somewhere else, but it’s not that simple.’
 
In the message to patients, practice staff said seven of the clinic’s GPs will move to a sister practice in East Canberra.
 
They said government policy and the complex healthcare undertaken at the Hobart Place clinic has made it hard to operate. 
 
‘A lot of you will have read reports in the media in the last two years about how the erosion in value of the Medicare rebate has put pressure on general practice,’ the closure notice stated.
 
‘This has certainly been true for the Interchange General Practice and its successor, Hobart Place General Practice, where we’ve found it increasingly difficult to practise the mixed billing model in general practice.
 
‘Government policy about GP registrar placements has also meant that very few of the GP registrars who have trained with us have ended up staying with us.
 
‘The focus of Interchange General Practice on disadvantaged populations has also meant that many GPs think that working at Hobart Place General Practice will also mean working with a lot of complex and challenging patients and so have avoided applying to work with us.’
 
RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins said Hobart Place offers a ‘wonderful inclusive service’ and that its closure should act as a ‘wake-up call’ to politicians.
 
‘It is shameful that Hobart Place General Practice has discovered, like too many other practices across Australia, that Medicare rebates don’t come near the cost of providing care, making it tough to keep the lights on,’ she said.
 
‘If our elected officials can let this happen in their own backyard in Canberra, what’s going to happen to the rest of the county?’
 
Dr Tuck Meng Soo agrees that general practice has been left to carry the burden of providing care to vulnerable, disadvantaged communities for too long – and that governments need to do more.
 
She said patients should consider encouraging governments to improve access to quality general practice.
 
‘We can’t continue to do it in the face of the continuing decline in value of Medicare rebates,’ she said.
 
‘I am sorry that some patients will find it difficult to access the care they need.
 
‘Unfortunately, Hobart Place General Practice has been unable to continue to shoulder the burden of providing their care.’
 
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