Federal member for Newcastle, Sharon Claydon, said GP Access After Hours played a "vital role" in providing patient care and saved the health system "about $21.7 million" each year in unnecessary emergency department presentations.
She launched the petition after hearing the service would need to drop its operating hours and close its Calvary Mater clinic due to funding reductions.
The changes were coming at a time when we needed to keep as many people out of the emergency departments as possible.
"I'm outraged we could even contemplate putting a terrific, much-loved and well-used health service into a position where they've had to close clinics or reduce hours," she said.
"We know the work of GP Access is to take the pressure off the EDs, to stop the unnecessary presentations to ED, and to help people in a far more appropriate setting.
"There are many issues that can be dealt with on the phone, or at one of these clinics. It's ludicrous to be quibbling over small amounts of funding... and to be denying this service really important funds to do the job they are especially good at."
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She said the financial pressures were due to an accumulation of "some terrible decisions" made at the Commonwealth level. Bulk billing GPs in Newcastle were "extremely rare", and the harder it became to find one, the more people were turning to GP Access After Hours.
"This is a compound effect of freezing the Medicare rebate, and the removal of the bulk billing incentive rate we lost about two years ago when they reclassified us as metro and not regional," she said.
Ms Claydon said the Commonwealth provided $4,057,400 per annum to Hunter Primary Care's GP Access After Hours service, as well as approximately $3.5 million in funding from Medicare billings. Until recently, the state also provided $559,798 a year to the service via the Hunter New England Health local health district. But the state's financial support would end next year.
Michael DiRienzo, the chief executive of Hunter New England Health, said they provided "not insignificant" in kind support to GP Access by way of facilities and services. But ultimately, after-hours services were primarily funded through the Commonwealth and Medicare.
"GP Access is valuable to the health service, and it is valuable to the community," Mr DiRienzo said. "Hunter New England Health have, in the past, made a financial contribution to the after-hours service when there weren't any other after-hours services available.
"What's happened in our region is there are other forms of after-hours services that other GPs and groups of GPs provide, and of course what Hunter Primary Care provide. The importance of the program is its sustainability going into the future."
Mr DiRienzo said the health district's funding primarily needed to go to its hospitals and acute services.
"Very important funding has gone into increasing the capacity of our emergency department," he said. "At this stage my priority would not be to fund the after hours service when the after hours service is primarily funded, and is a responsibility of, the Commonwealth."
Ms Claydon said hospital budgets were tight. Every state premier had written to the Commonwealth asking for more money to cope with the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It makes my blood boil to be back here arguing this case for funding for GP Access After Hours again."
State member for Swansea, Yasmin Catley, said the latest quarterly data from the Bureau of Health information showed emergency presentations in the Hunter had increased 34.4 per cent.
"Now with the closure and reduced hours of these clinics that saw 50,000 people each year, our emergency departments will be under even more pressure," she said.
"The decision to halve the hours of weekend clinics at local hospitals over the weekend while many GP clinics are not operating, will leave people with no choice but to present to an emergency department."
Newcastle Herald readers who have relied on the service in the past have shared their concerns about the looming changes.
"This is a disgrace. GP Access is a god send. I'm sure it relieves the emergency departments of minor ailments during the night," Alison Carr Markovich said via Facebook.
Rebekah Wilson commented: "The Mater is always my first choice for GP Access.
"Very, very sad to see this service go."
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