I rise tonight to share the trials of a constituent in my electorate. Louise Whelan is 65 years old. She lives alone in a lakeside shack in Interlaken, a town in the Central Highlands, about two hours from Hobart. She's tough. She's as tough as they come. She's got a wicked sense of humour and she's whip smart. But, by and large, life has not gone her way. She's had reconstructive facial surgery following a car accident, and, in more recent years, she's experienced debilitating hip and knee pain. She can barely walk, let alone drive, and every day is agony. I've seen it firsthand. That's been her life for the past five years—five years of excruciating pain, five years on a hospital waiting list.
In May, it looked as though she'd finally made it: surgery booked in, all good to go. But the hospital did not clearly stipulate that she also needed to attend a pre-admission booking. At short notice, they apparently reckon they told her, but she never got the message. And she can barely move, let alone drive herself to hospital at the drop of a hat. She says she wasn't contacted, and, frankly, even if she had been, because of her immobility and how far away she lives she couldn't have got there anyway at the short notice the hospital says they gave her. So her surgery was cancelled—not once, but twice. Not once did the Royal Hobart Hospital offer to bring Louise to and from her pre-admission or her surgery. Not once did the hospital reach out to say, 'How can we help you get this surgery that you need?'
One of my staff ended up driving a six-hour round trip just to make sure that Louise finally made it to and from her rescheduled pre-admission appointment. I'd like to thank my staff member, Lachie, who spent the entire day driving Louise and spending the day with her in the hospital as she did her rounds of appointments. It's not something that my staff and my office would normally do. It's not the role of a member of parliament or their staff to do that, but we knew that, if we didn't do it on this occasion, Louise would face many more months of waiting. Thank you, Lachie, for that, going above and beyond.
Louise is not a statistic. She's a person—a living, breathing person. There are so many more like her. Thousands of Tasmanians are spending years on surgery waiting lists for life-changing procedures and suddenly finding themselves back another two years or, worse, off the list entirely. In the past decade alone, elective surgery waiting lists have grown from 8½ thousand people in 2011 to 11½ thousand in May this year. Over that time, we've seen four restructures of the health service and more than a dozen reports, including a 2014 report that highlights the 'unacceptable number of overdue elective surgery', with hundreds of recommendations made and not acted upon. There is something deeply wrong with Tasmania's health system.
More broadly, we must also consider the implications of a federal government that is single-mindedly stripping our nation's health care for parts. The AMA, the Grattan Institute, health funds, Consumers Health Forum and the Australian Orthopaedic Association have all warned that the Prime Minister's Medicare cuts and changes will impact on fees and lead to an increase in out-of-pocket costs to patients. To top it off, we're seeing fewer medical practitioners in regional Australia. In the past month alone, my electorate has lost four GPs from across clinics in Brighton and Bridgewater—four!—and these are GPs with their books packed. Where are their patients going to go? More than 18,000 people live in the Brighton LGA, many with complex health requirements. Now they're facing month-long waits just to see an unfamiliar locum doctor, if one can be found. It's not good enough, and the state and federal Liberal governments have gone missing.
We on this side of the House know the importance of providing quality health care to regional Australians. That's why we've established, in the Senate, an inquiry into GP shortages and the rural health crisis facing our country—not just in Lyons but across our nation. Those outside city centres are finding it harder and harder to get access to a local GP, and almost impossible to find bulk-billing. We can do better. We must do better. This system needs to work better for people like Louise.