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I know quite a lot about health and health care, and this is indeed a matter of major public importance. In my maiden speech, I spoke about the difficulties of access to health care and what drove me to want to represent my community in federal parliament—to try and improve access to health care. I can speak for hours about this. There is no doubt that there is a crisis. Issues Australians face in accessing health care are getting more and more difficult. Gap costs are rising exponentially, such that many people—many working-class people, many people on moderate incomes—cannot afford to access good health care in my electorate.
I'll just give you a couple of examples. Recently I was approached by a constituent, Alan, an elderly gentleman who required an MRI scan of his abdomen because of an abdominal mass. He had an implantable pacemaker present and required an MRI scan to be done at Liverpool Hospital, a public hospital. He was going to be charged $900 for this—no refund. He couldn't afford it and wanted me to contact the health service to see if we could change anything. They refused. He had to borrow $900 from his son to pay for it.
I was contacted recently by Mary, a lady who sustained a spinal injury in a severe motor vehicle accident and was incontinent. There is no public urological clinic in my public hospital, Campbelltown Hospital. So she had to see someone privately and could not afford the $500 fee. She wanted me to ring the urologist to see if he would bulk-bill her. He usually never bulk-bills anyone but he was able to do this because I rang him. I was also contacted by Daphne, an elderly lady with chronic heart failure. She couldn't get in to see a private cardiologist because, once again, we have no public cardiology clinic at my public hospital. She had to see someone privately and she couldn't afford the $600 gap fee for an ultrasound and consultation.
As you can see, everyday people are facing these huge access issues, with huge gap costs to get in to see doctors, general practitioners and specialists. Gap costs for specialists have absolutely skyrocketed. I can tell the House, as a doctor, that I'm ashamed to see people in the 21st century in Australia struggling to access good health care. We're heading towards an American style health system, and that is a huge shame. This government and this health minister seem to be quite glad to allow this to happen.
We've even seen huge cost-shifting exercises in New South Wales by the state government, with a gradual deterioration in public outpatient clinics. Indeed, the public outpatient clinics should be seen as being in palliative care because they're so run down and it's so difficult for people to access public hospital care. Waiting lists are getting longer and longer and longer. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, a staggering three million Australians are putting off going to see a GP or specialist or getting tests done because they can't afford the costs. That is a great shame.
Recently I saw a pregnant lady—her doctor thought she may be pregnant with twins—who was was putting off getting the obstetric ultrasound until she could get in to the outpatient obstetric clinic, which would be when she was around seven and a half months pregnant, which is really far too late to be getting an obstetric ultrasound performed. It was a great shame.
Another area where we're struggling is private health insurance costs, which are beyond the reach of many Australians. More and more people are dropping out of private health insurance. It is indicative of the conservative politics in both state and federal systems, and particularly in New South Wales. The New South Wales government's answer to this is to privatise everything. The federal government's answer is to want to try and introduce a GP fee for every consultation, which will further punish those on low incomes. People are waiting longer than ever for elective surgery. For cataract surgery in my electorate, the wait is close to two years; for ENT surgery, it's about 18 months; and for even a simple test like a colonoscopy, it's over a year. It's a great shame. Public hospital outpatient clinics are just about dead. People are forgoing treatment. They're not getting the care they need, and it's this government's responsibility.