Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, doorstop – 24 May 2024

Read the transcript from Assistant Minister McBride's doorstop on the Cessnock Medicare Urgent Care Clinic, Medicare Mental Health Centres and Medicare Urgent Care Clinics.

The Hon Emma McBride MP
Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Assistant Minister Rural and Regional Health

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DAN REPACHOLI, MEMBER FOR HUNTER: Cheers, thank you. Hi all, great to be back here at the Cessnock Medicare Urgent Care Clinic. October last year, Emma McBride, the Assistant Health Minister and myself, also with the PHN and the team from Allways Healthcare, they were here and we opened the Cessnock Medicare Urgent Care Clinic. And since then, we've had over 5300 visits to this facility alone. They've got new branding, as you can see, it looks amazing here now. There's definitely no one that can say they don't know where it is now with the branding they have now. So, thank you to Allways Health for what they've done and thank you to Emma McBride and the Health team and the Albanese Labor Government for making sure that Cessnock got an Urgent Care Clinic because it is what we needed.

We needed to make sure the wait times in our hospital were cut down and that is exactly what this has done by having 5000 people come through this door over- since October last year, that is absolutely great. Great for our area and making sure that people are getting the healthcare they need, and all for free. What we have always spoken about in the Labor Government is to make sure that people who need the care can get the care and that’s what this Cessnock Urgent Care Clinic is delivering. I'll now pass over to Emma McBride, the Assistant Minister for Health, to say a few words. Thank you. 

ASSISTANT MINISTER EMMA MCBRIDE: Thank you very much, Dan. It is such a pleasure to be back here, to have been part of the opening in October last year and to know since then more than 5300 people have visited the Cessnock Medicare Urgent Care Clinic. We know that a third of those people are children under 15, so it's a trusted alternative for families to the emergency department, as Dan Repacholi, the Local Member, has said. And I want to thank Dan, the Member for Hunter, for his advocacy, to be able to secure a Medicare Urgent Care Clinic right here in Cessnock and for the surrounding community. We're already seeing a drop in presentations to the local emergency department, many of which were for non-urgent or semi-urgent conditions. There are people who can be seen here with a fever with a minor sporting injury, with an upper respiratory tract infection. So many individuals and local families have already benefited. 

And in the budget, understanding the demands on centres like this, there's been an uplift in funding for Medicare Urgent Care Clinics. So that's to extend the footprint from 58, we're going to add another 29 across Australia. And with $227 million, part of that is expanding the footprint, but also strengthening it, acknowledging the demands on centres like this and others outside of our major cities. So, a big investment in the budget in free universal healthcare close to home. 

I also wanted to make another announcement today. We know that many people are living distressed in our communities right around the country. We've seen an increase in presentations, including to hospitals post COVID-19. So, the government is rolling out 61 Medicare Mental Health Centres, building on the successful Head to Health model. And later today I'll be visiting the one in Cessnock. And I'm pleased to let you know that, just in the next couple of months. there'll be a new Medicare Mental Health Centre in Muswellbrook.

We know that people are struggling, particularly outside of big cities, to access mental health care close to home. These centres are designed on the Medicare principles - free walk -in. And, in the budget, we're also strengthening them to make sure that every Medicare Mental Health Centre will be able to have access to psychologist and psychiatrist on call, making sure that everybody, wherever they live, can access care for their physical health and for their mental health as well.

So, we're now open for questions. 

JOURNALIST: I presume that you have plans for more Urgent Care Clinics in the Hunter, not just in Cessnock? 

MCBRIDE: In the budget, as I said, there was an increase in investment of $227 million for Medicare Urgent Care Clinics. There's a network of 58 across Australia at the moment. There'll be another 29. At the moment there, in New South Wales, we are working with the state government on other locations. So, they'll be determined with the state government and will be announced in the near future. 

JOURNALIST: So, are any of those likely to be in the Hunter?

MCBRIDE: We’re working very closely, as I said, with the New South Wales Government to make sure that communities, particularly regional ones outside of major centres, get the right kind of access to support and care. And, as I mentioned, in addition to the Medicare Urgent Care Clinic there will be now a Medicare Mental Health Centre in Cessnock and another one in Muswellbrook. So... 

JOURNALIST: [Talks over] Are there any plans for other ones of those in other areas of the Hunter?

MCBRIDE: Yes, across Australia, where there will be 61 Medicare mental health centres. At the moment there is 14 in New South Wales and there are other locations that are being worked on with the New South Wales Government 

JOURNALIST: I believe the objective was to have these urgent care clinics open until 10pm. I believe this one’s open until 6pm – is that something that may happen in the future? There has been a bit of criticism about the opening hours, what would you say to that?

MCBRIDE: We want to make sure that everybody can access the supporting care that they need, and that's why in the budget we've invested another $227 million to not just increase the footprint of Medicare urgent care clinics, but to strengthen them. We know that the demand on clinics like these have been high, and that’s why there will be additional investment to be able to recognise that increase in demand, including to be able to support workforce. So we're working with the primary health networks and with the providers to make sure that we're able to provide the service across the hours that are needed, and we're working towards an increase and expansion in hours in many of the locations. And this increase in funding is to help to support that. 

JOURNALIST: The average out of pocket cost for Hunter patients to see a GP has risen. It’s now standing at $48 on average, which is a record. Due to the cost of living a lot of people just can’t afford that, does the Government have an answer?

MCBRIDE: In the last budget, we invested more than $3 billion in Medicare. When we came into- and that- sorry, that $3 billion was in bulk billing. When we came into Government, bulk billing was in freefall. It had dropped significantly in the Hunter and the Central Coast, right across the country. But we've invested in the previous budget more than $3 billion in Medicare, the biggest investment in bulk billing since bulk billing was introduced more than 40 years ago. What we've seen across Australia is a 2.7 increase in bulk billing. We've stabilised it, but obviously we need to continue to grow it. Especially so that people - older people, children under 16 - can get access to support and care. So, we've tripled the bulk billing incentive. It is scaled for rurality. The more regional you are, the greater the incentive for the GP. So we are seeing an uptick. As I said, 2.7 per cent across the country. And we know that there is more work to do, but here is a really good example of the Government strengthening Medicare in both physical health and mental health. We know there is more to do, but we also are really, really pleased with what we've seen so far in the increase in access and affordability for many local people. 

JOURNALIST: You mentioned that there was a decrease in people presenting to Cessnock Hospital. Do you- what are the figures? Could you walk us through some of that? 

MCBRIDE: There is some early data nationally. And what we are seeing is that, across the country, in some places at Medicare urgent care clinics, 80 per cent of people who are surveyed are saying that they would have otherwise gone to the emergency department. And we know that- I was in central Queensland earlier this week. The wait at the local emergency department at the time was five hours, and the wait at the Medicare urgent care clinic was less than two. So we're seeing it as being across the country, more than 400,000 people have presented to Medicare urgent care clinics. And of those surveyed, many of them have said they would otherwise present to the emergency department. But we will soon have more local data to be able to speak to. But we know anecdotally, we're already seeing a reduction in presentations to the emergency department. And many emergency departments across the country were seeing what's considered non-urgent or semi-urgent presentations, and they're the kind of presentations - a minor sporting injury, a rash, a temperature, an upper respiratory tract infection - that could be seen and are being seen at Medicare urgent care clinics. 

JOURNALIST: On top of the cost, that it is $48 on average, which is a new record for the Hunter. It is really hard to get into a GP here as well. It can take many weeks. We have families reporting this to us, and older people. I- obviously this kind of clinic would help that, but you can't put them everywhere. What's the answer for people to actually get in to see a GP? 

MCBRIDE: What we're doing is growing our GP workforce in Australia. When we came to government, about 3000 GPs were graduated a year in Australia. Less than 20 per cent were choosing GP as their speciality. And of those, two in 10 were working outside of major cities. This is something that we really needed to turn around. And what we've done is: we've increased the number of Commonwealth supported places for medical students at clinical schools outside of major cities. We're also increasing the number of placements in regional and more remote parts of Australia, because we know a quality long term placement in a regional or remote community makes a medical student much more likely to be open to working in those type of communities. We've boosted the John Flynn placement program. We're also wiping their HECS debt. If you're a medical graduate or a nurse practitioner who chooses to work or live in the more regional or remote parts of Australia, your HECS debt will be wiped or reduced. Across the pipeline, more places for medical students in regional universities. So more places for medical students in regional universities, more quality placements outside of our major cities, and reducing or wiping their debt. All of these things to try to encourage medical students to live and work outside of our capital cities and to reduce the barriers that might have stopped them being able to do that.

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