New MP makes plea for more GPs

Jolyon Attwooll

6/09/2022 4:13:37 PM

Former Northern Beaches GP Dr Sophie Scamps also called for a Medicare rebate rise and recognition of climate change as a health emergency.

Dr Sophie Scamps
Independent member for Mackellar Dr Sophie Scamps speaks during a debate on the Climate Change Bill in August. (Image: AAP)

Newly elected Federal MP Dr Sophie Scamps has warned of an impending workforce crisis in general practice.
Dr Scamps, who worked as a GP in Sydney’s Northern Beaches before being elected as the member for Mackellar as part of wave of new independent ‘teal’ representatives, made the comments in Parliament on Monday (5 September).
She said many Australians now face a stark choice between paying basic living costs and healthcare.
‘There are also millions of Australians in rural and regional areas particularly that have to wait months to see a GP,’ she told Parliament.
‘Why? Well, firstly, there are simply not enough GPs in Australia. And, secondly, the Medicare rebate was frozen for so long between 2013 and 2019 that now, in order to keep their businesses afloat, GPs are making the hard decision to charge patients an out-of-pocket expense.’
Dr Scamps cited research carried out by Deloitte which projects a shortfall of almost 11,000 GPs by 2030, representing close to 25% of the workforce.
‘This is a crisis because GPs are at the forefront of both acute medicine and preventative medicine,’ Dr Scamps said.
‘Not enough GPs are being trained because the stagnant Medicare rebate was not enough to attract them, especially when other medical specialties are better remunerated.
‘We must lift the Medicare rebate and we must run a campaign to attract medical students into the specialty of general practice.’
A motion for Parliament to formally recognise climate change as a health emergency was also moved by Dr Scamps on the same day.

The motion states that climate change will impact the ‘core determinants’ of health, such as food, housing, employment and water security.
It also highlights other impacts, including on infectious disease transmission, mental health, as well as the effects of heat stress on mortality and morbidity.
Dr Scamps used her own experience as a GP in Narrabeen in her speech to move the motion, recalling ‘numerous patients with breathing difficulty’ presenting as the Black Summer bushfires raged in 2019–20.
‘Respiratory and cardiac disorders associated with heavy smoke pollution are just a couple of the health impacts of climate change,’ she said.
‘Extreme heat waves have killed more Australians than any other climate-related weather event. And fossil fuel air pollution continues to cause more than 5000 Australian deaths a year.’
A ‘less visible’ effect of climate-related weather events is the psychological damage they cause, Dr Scamps says, recounting the experience of a woman who almost died in the Lismore floods.
‘The physical and mental scars from repeated flooding and other extreme weather events will last for years to come,’ she said.
The motion, which was seconded by Kooyong MP and paediatric neurologist Dr Monique Ryan, also calls on the Federal Government to outline timelines, scope, funding and objectives for developing a national climate change, health and wellbeing strategy.
Dr Ryan cited the work of the RACGP, which formally recognised climate change as a health emergency in late 2019, in her speech to second the motion.
‘No matter where we live, our environment, our communities and our environment are all vulnerable to the changing climate,’ Dr Ryan said.
‘Five years ago, the Lancet’s Australian Countdown study confirmed that all Australian cities are highly vulnerable to raising temperatures and the impacts of extreme weather events.
‘The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners followed up this study and found that Australia’s current carbon emissions trajectory is projected to triple – yes, triple – heatwave-related deaths in the cities of Brisbane and Melbourne in our lifetimes.
‘If we don’t urgently change course within 50 years, the City of Sydney’s heat-related deaths will increase fivefold.
‘The [RACGP] has also identified climate change as a key public health issue.’
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