A petition from a hinterland community that is pleading for access to essential health services is now before parliament.
Federal Member for Fisher Andrew Wallace has officially tabled the petition, with 775 signatures from the Montville community, in Canberra.
Launched in March at the Montville Pharmacy, the petition stated the community was in “desperate need” and called for the federal government to improve rural and regional incentives to address GP shortages in the area.
The community’s plea comes after Montville’s Ochre Heath closed its doors in January, following a five-month search for staff, due to a “shortage in doctors”.
It has meant patients who had previously attended the Montville practice will now need to travel to Maleny or Nambour to see a doctor.
Related story: GP closes after five-month staff search
In March, Montville pharmacist Natalie Lindner called on the federal government to review the town’s classification on the Modified Monash Model (which defines whether a location is city, rural, remote or very remote).
“Montville misses out by only hundreds of metres from MM5 category rural funding zoning, which would make all the difference in attracting doctors,” Ms Lindner told Sunshine Coast News at the time.
Mr Wallace echoed her request, saying other hinterland communities like Maleny have access to many doctors because of “lines on a map and rural government funding”.
“Because of the way doctors are funded through the Modified Monash Model, there is a discrepancy between the income a doctor would earn in Montville, which is less than what a doctor would earn in Maleny,” Mr Wallace said.
“I’m calling on Health Minister Mark Butler, as are those 775 petitioners, to make an exemption and make it at least on par with Maleny to make it more financially rewarding for a doctor to work in Montville.”
Related story: ‘Desperate need’: essential service plea ramps up
Montville has an ageing population, with more than 50 per cent over the age of 55, and is well above the state and national averages for people aged 55-84.
The community’s higher proportion of seniors are in the age group that has the highest rate of need to see a GP.
Mr Wallace said that without a doctor service, Montville residents must drive along steep roads on all exits of the town, including the aptly named Razorback Road.
“A lack of public transport is another obstacle faced by Montville residents seeking health care, and the lack of a sustainable health service will have compounding effects on the town,” he said.
“It’s not just the people of Montville that need a doctor. It’s the businesses like the Montville Pharmacy, which runs the risk of having to shut down if Montville doesn’t have a doctor.
“If people have to travel to Nambour or Maleny for a medical appointment, it becomes a day trip and they’ll do their shopping or seek other services while they wait for their appointments.
“That will impact on the Montville Post Office, the IGA and lots of other businesses. These things have a knock-on effect.”
He said the town truly missed the services of Dr Michael Simpson, who was recently posthumously recognised in the King’s Birthday Honours.
He paid tribute to the late Dr Simpson’s “tireless work” in the Montville community.
“Since Dr Michael’s passing, Montville has struggled to maintain a GP service. Now there is none,” he said.
“Both state and federal Labor governments have the right levers to pull to give rural communities like Montville the health services they deserve.”
In response, the Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler said after nine years of “cuts” by the former government, the federal government was now making Medicare stronger for all Australians.
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He said the 2023-24 federal budget delivered a $6.1 billion investment to strengthen Medicare, with an immediate injection of support into general practice and reforms that would give GPs the support they need.
“Our historic investments in Medicare will triple the bulk-billing incentive – the largest increase to the incentive in the 40-year history of Medicare,” Mr Butler said.
“This will help over five million children and their families, and more than seven million pensioners and concession card holders, to see a bulk-billed GP.
“Doctors’ groups have called this a ‘game-changer’ and GPs right around the country have said this will help them maintain and even shift back to bulk billing.
“On top of the investment in bulk billing, we are investing in a $1.5 billion indexation boost to every single Medicare rebate, increasing the amount that doctors receive for each Medicare service and reducing pressure on GPs.”
He said that would increase rebates more in a single year than the former government did in seven years.
“We are investing $220 million to support every GP practice with grants to update their clinics,” he said.
“We’re making it easier for Australians to get the care they need by growing the health workforce and supporting all our trusted health workers to do what they’re trained to do.”
Mr Butler didn’t respond to questions from Sunshine Coast News surrounding the petition and a review of Montville’s classification of the Modified Monash Model.
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