If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of looking after our health.

Yet for thousands of regional, rural and remote Australians who don’t have access to a local GP or bulk billing, that’s easier said than done.

Over eight long years, the Liberal-National government has failed to improve the dire shortage of GPs in regional, rural and remote communities. In fact, by making almost 1000 cuts and changes to the Medicare Benefits Schedule, the Morrison government is making the problem worse.

Our primary health network is in crisis. Too many people are forced in a situation to either wait weeks to see a GP, travel long distances to get care, or simply go without. For those going without treatment, their conditions could worsen, and may end up in hospital. Putting additional pressure on a health care system which is already pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID has highlighted the holes and gaps in our health system, and none are more obvious than the shortage of GPs and other services. But this issue isn’t new; people living in country Victoria have been battling a critical lack of GPs for far too long.

With Australia experiencing a shortage of GPs, allied health, and specialist medical services, the Morrison-Joyce government has done nothing which will fix the problem. Deloitte estimates the nation is facing a shortfall of nearly 9300 full-time GPs by 2030, representing about a quarter of the workforce.

Federal Labor established a Senate inquiry to hold the Coalition to account and examine the GP shortage, including the Medicare rebate freeze, to make sure everyone has access to quality health care regardless of where they live.
A key part of this work is hearing directly from Australians most affected by the approaching health crisis in this country. I want to thank those who have contacted me about how hard it is to see a doctor or a medical specialist including some who are struggling to access or pay for medical care.

This inquiry will investigate why our region is particularly affected by a lack of GPs and come up with practical solutions to fix it. Our communities are seeking firm action and a commitment to solutions.

The community deserves equitable access to essential healthcare services, and our GPs servicing the regions require greater support.

Country Victoria deserves better. It’s time for the federal government to provide greater support for our primary health network as we emerge from the pandemic.

Senator Raff Ciccone, Deputy Opposition Whip in the Senate and federal Labor Senator for Victoria.