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Hunter GP Access After Hours services restored

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In a huge win for local residents, Hunter GP Access After Hours (GPAAH) services will be restored following a concerted community campaign.

Hunter Primary Care (HPC) has signed a contract with the Hunter New England Central Coast Primary Health Network (HNECC PHN) to reopen the facility’s doors in Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and Maitland for a further two years.

Most importantly, both organisations have agreed the funding provided is sufficient to revive the GPAAH clinic at the Calvary Mater Hospital from May, too.

Originally, HPC made the difficult decision to close the service in December 2021 due to financial shortfalls, notwithstanding the public outcry from federal MPs and residents to prevent the closure.

But, the Anthony Albanese government – delivering on an election promise – will provide approximately $5.5 million per annum over four years to the HNECC PHN to commission HPC to reinstate four GPAAH clinics at Belmont, John Hunter and Maitland hospitals, as well as Toronto Polyclinic.

So, it means people in the region should find it easier to see a GP or nurse and reduce pressure on local emergency departments as their operational hours had been reduced on weekends, public holidays and nights.

Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon welcomed the outcome.

“I hear from Novocastrians every week about how hard it is to see their doctor,” she said.

“The former Liberal government’s cuts and six-year freeze to Medicare rebates has created a crisis in general practice.

“Restoring hours at John Hunter Hospital and reopening the clinic at the Calvary Mater Hospital will help ease some of this burden.”

Shortland MP Pat Conroy admitted it was important to bring back the unique and vital service.

“Re-establishing these hours will take pressure off our overcrowded emergency departments during their busiest times,” he said.

“There are very few people in our region who have not used the services of the GPAAH.”

Hunter MP Dan Repacholi agreed.

“I have seen and heard the horror stories of people waiting days and even weeks to be able to get into see their GP,” he said.

“This change will mean residents in Cessnock, Lake Macquarie, Morisset, Cooranbong, Toronto and right across the electorate will have access to quality care, reducing hospital waiting times.”

Paterson MP Meryl Swanson said the government was taking a practical and common-sense approach to improving critical healthcare for the region.

“We’re delivering on our election commitments by restoring vital health services,” she explained.

“I’m delighted that the people of Paterson and, indeed, the wider Hunter will see these critical services restored.”

Hunter Primary Care’s chief operating officer Keith Drinkwater claimed it was a major victory for the community.

“We are so grateful to be guaranteed the necessary funding to continue providing this vital service,” he said.

“Hunter Primary Care deeply appreciates the contribution of Sharon Claydon, who lobbied long and hard on behalf of the local community to re-establish the GP Access After Hours services.

“We are also very grateful to MPs Pat Conroy, Meryl Swanson and Dan Repacholi for their support.”

The PHN’s chief executive officer Richard Nankervis said the funding demonstrated the government’s obligation to primary care.

“In an environment where difficulties accessing primary health care is contributing to over extended emergency departments, the support could not have come at a better time,” he added.

“Everyone deserves equitable access to health care.

“The re-opening of the GPAAH clinic at the Calvary Mater as well as the restoration of the other is a huge win for the people of Newcastle and the Hunter region.

“We thank the Department of Health and Aged Care for recognising the importance of this service.”

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