Super Clinic audit sparks calls for program to be axed

A SERIES of complex problems, including land acquisitions, development approvals and staff recruitment, will continue to plague the Federal Government's GP Super Clinic program, an audit has revealed.

Auditor-General Ian McPhee's first report on the $418 million national program also revealed problems in the tender process for the clinics.

The audit has sparked calls from the Australian Medical Association for the entire program to be axed and funds to be given, instead, to existing GP practices.

It showed a key program risk identified was the "use of both competitive and non-competitive grant processes to select funding recipients with the one program".

The audit also identified staff recruitment and retention as the biggest challenge for most clinics, while the majority of clinics were making good progress towards expectations.

A lack of scrutiny in the initial round of the super clinics program was also revealed, with guidelines not submitted to the Cabinet's Expenditure Review Committee, despite it being government policy to do so.

"While the program guidelines were approved by the minister in April 2008, (the department's) briefing seeking ministerial approval did not advise her," the audit reads.

However, by the time of the second round of the program, the guidelines were submitted to the high-level spending committee for review.

As at April, funding agreements for all first round locations were completed with 29 of 36 clinics already operational and a further seven incomplete.

"For the second round, funding agreements for 24 of the 29 clinic location have been executed and one clinic is operational, with so-called 'early services' being provided from existing premises at another seven locations," the audit reads.

"The time taken from the execution of funding agreements to the completion of clinics has varied considerably, reflecting amongst other things, delays association with resolving often complex issues of land tenure, development approvals and construction works."

It also revealed a range of complex issues including land acquisition and development approval matters had delayed the completion of certain clinics and "are likely to remain an ongoing challenge" for the department.

AMA vice-president Professor Geoffrey Dobb said the audit results showed the program has been "very poor value for money".

"That money would have been much better spent on the Primary Care Infrastructure Grants program, which the Auditor-General last year found to be delivering excellent results," he said.

Mr McPhee's report made four recommendations to the government for improvements to be made to the program, all of which were agreed to by the Federal Health Department.

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