The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) say closure of a practice providing vital services to students, many disadvantaged people, as well as Canberra’s gender diverse community is a massive blow and a wake-up call for politicians.
This week, Hobart Place General Practice told its patients it will close on 30 April, saying it was ‘financially unviable’ due to the erosion in value of Medicare rebates, and several doctors retiring or leaving.
RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins said: “Everyone should be able to get the care they need from a GP to live a healthy and full life – this is why the loss of Hobart Place General Practise is hitting Canberrans so hard.
“This practice is well loved by the community. It’s known for providing services to people who really need it, including people on low incomes, students, people with refugee backgrounds, and people on disability cards.
“It has been a wonderful inclusive service for people who are sexually and gender diverse who can face barriers to care.
“General practice services like this are vital for every community because simply put, everyone needs a good GP – not just to help when they’re sick, but to help them stay well. There is no substitute for GPs.
“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.
“And it should be a wake-up call. If our elected officials can let this happen in their own backyard Canberra, what’s going to happen to the rest of the county?
“Australia has a world class health system, but we need serious reform and funding so it stays that way. So everyone can access GP services no matter where they live or what they earn. So we have enough GPs in every community, and people can spend the time they need with their GP, and don’t feel like they’re being rushed.”
Hobart Place General Practice Principal and founder Dr Clara Tuck Meng Soo said the practice had been inundated by calls from patients distressed to hear about the planned closure on April 30.
“The phones have not stopped ringing. Patients want to know what’s happening, and what will happen to their ongoing care,” she said.
“We look after people from disadvantaged populations, who really need access to general practice. But Medicare rebates have not kept up with the true cost of running a practice, and don’t support GPs looking after people who are vulnerable.
“We found we were losing money, so we tried to reduce the amount of bulk billing. But margins are really tight, and we don’t have enough doctors. You need a certain number of GPs working to cover all the costs of running a practice.
“I tried many different things to keep the practice viable. After trying for so long I decided it’s not something I can continue doing. And when GPs withdraw from doing this work, it obviously has big impacts on people in these communities.”
Holly Hazlewood is a transgender woman and has been a patient at Hobart Place General Practice. She said it was regarded as a ‘safe haven’ for the trans and gender diverse community in Canberra.
“It’s an eternal question that queer and gender diverse people ask: what GP clinic can I go to that’s understanding? Hobart Place was very much a respected and a safe option for a lot of the trans and gender diverse community in Canberra,” she said.
“I can imagine for some people trying to find another clinic could feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack. And people’s overall health and wellbeing could suffer if they don’t feel like they can go anywhere else.”
Holly said the government should act to prevent further closures and ensure access to care for the community.
“Across the world governments are trying to actively ban and restrict trans healthcare. Here’s an opportunity for our government to take a stand for one of the most marginalised communities in Australia and around the world,” she said.
“Here’s an opportunity for them to do what they can to stop further GP clinic closures, because we don’t have lots of options, we’re not the dominate part of society. People say just go somewhere else, but it’s not that simple.”
Hobart Place is just one of many GP practices which have been forced to close across Australia because successive governments have stripped funding from general practice care over decades. In the last Health of the Nation report, almost half of GPs (48%) surveyed reported that it is financially unsustainable for them to continue working as a GP.