Trailblazing LGBT+ practice closes doors

4 minute read

Dr Clara Tuck Meng Soo said it had been tough to find doctors willing to work at the practice, given its reputation for complex and challenging patients.

The combined effect of two of the biggest existential threats to general practice have forced a long-running Canberra clinic known for treating underserved communities to shut down for good.  

Hobart Place General Practice, formerly Interchange General Practice, will close at the end of April due to the falling value of Medicare rebates and the doctor shortage.  

Practice owner Dr Clara Tuck Meng Soo – who will continue working at her second Canberra practice – said she had made various changes to the clinic to try to sustain it, but the eroding Medicare rebate had slowly made it unviable.  

“We used to actually bulk bill everybody who had a concession card, but over the years what happened was that we gradually saw more and more people from disadvantaged populations,” she told The Medical Republic.  

“There was an especially [high population of] people who have complex mental health problems and people with drug dependencies, because we had a completely non-judgmental attitude. 

“We found that we were actually losing money – after losing $70,000, a year for two years I said, well, I can’t continue to do this.”  

“In the earlier days, [bulk billing concession card holders] wasn’t a problem at all, we could still see just two or three patients an hour, bulk bill them, and the doctors in the practice could make enough money for everyone to be happy,” she said.  

It was at that point that Dr Soo decided to change the name of Interchange General Practice, which had originally been set up by Dr Peter Rowland in the midst of the HIV epidemic.  

After becoming Hobart Place General Practice, Dr Soo said the practice transitioned to a more restrictive billing model in an effort to keep afloat.  

Efforts to recruit more GPs, though, were thwarted due to the practice’s reputation for serving vulnerable communities.  

“Other doctors have been, I suppose, not enthusiastic about coming to work at Hobart Place General Practice,” she said.  

Unable to find replacements for several senior doctors who are set to retire in the middle of the year, Dr Soo realised that the practice would quickly become “financially marginal”. 

“The Medicare rebate has eroded to the extent now that general practice is saying we cannot actually continue to carry this burden,” she said.  

“I think governments of all persuasions need to really talk with general practice about how we put in place new structures that actually allow general practice to work with disadvantaged populations.”  

The remaining doctors at Hobart Place will move to Dr Soo’s other practice, East Canberra General Practice, which she says is in a more financially viable state.  

“It was a decision that I’ve been coming to, I suppose, over a number of years – but things have been forced upon me because of financial imperatives,” she said. 

Some patients will be able to follow their doctors to the new practice, but others have elected to search for a new GP.  

The RACGP has also chimed in with a message of support. 

“It is shameful that Hobart Place General Practice has discovered, like too many other practices across Australia, that Medicare rebates don’t come near the cost of providing care, making it tough to keep the lights on,” RACGP president Dr Nicole Higgins said. 

“And it should be a wake-up call. If our elected officials can let this happen in their own backyard Canberra, what’s going to happen to the rest of the country?” 

Hobart Place General Practice will shut its doors for the final time on 30 April.  

End of content

No more pages to load

Log In Register ×