Assistant Minister McBride – interview on ABC North Coast – 16 May 2023

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister McBride's interview with Bridie Tanner about strengthening Medicare, cheaper medicines, Better Access and vaping

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

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BRIDIE TANNER, HOST: Here at ABC North Coast, Bridie Tanner with you, and thankfully the stigma around mental health problems is starting to change. But if you are struggling, and most of us will at some point in our lives, it can also be quite isolating and difficult to recognise when someone else is struggling too. There were some changes to health and mental health funding announced in the recent Federal Budget, the Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention and the Assistant Minister for Rural and Regional Health, Emma McBride, is in Lismore today checking out the GP Super Clinic here in Lismore. She's also going to be meeting and visiting the clinicians there, the GPs, talking about how this Budget is going to impact them directly, she has made time to join us here in the ABC North Coast studio. Thanks for coming in Emma McBride.

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: Thank you Bridie, it's good to be back in Lismore.

BRIDIE TANNER, HOST: So this budget announcement for a triple incentive for bulk billing so our GPs will bulk bill us if we're concession cardholders, if we're a young family, or a pensioner their incentive would be tripled for that? It's something that's taken me a long time to wrap my head around and I'm still not sure exactly. Why did we go for that decision, as opposed to changing the Medicare rebate?

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well we've seen, after a decade of neglect from the former government, that many of the most vulnerable people in Australia, particularly those living outside of major cities, can't access care affordably or close to home and in conversation and working with the Royal Australian College of General Practice, with Rural Doctors Association of Australia, this is what they said would make a difference. So, tripling that bulk billing incentive is nationally a $3.5 billion investment in Medicare. It is the single biggest investment in Medicare in the history of our universal health care system. I was at the Rural Doctors Conference in Tasmania over the weekend and I spoke to a doctor there, Jess, and her practice had reluctantly stopped bulk billing. But she believes now with this tripling of the incentive that will mean that they'll be able to return to bulk billing. I've had conversations with the president of the Royal Australian College of General Practice and he said that practices that were either forced to stop bulk billing or thinking that they couldn't continue, will now be able to do so.

BRIDIE TANNER, HOST: I'm sure a lot of our listeners have noticed that their previously bulk billing practice now charges them at least just paying the gap or having that rebate. I'm wondering because there are predicted doctor shortages across Australia. The AMA, the Australian Medical Association, is predicting that will be 10,000 Doctors short by the year 2031. I'm wondering if this incentive to doctors is going to help, especially rural and regional areas, help us hold on to our doctors and attract more doctors to our areas.

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: These are the conversations that I've had with doctors right around Australia, but particularly in the most regional and remote communities. I'm really confident, I spoke to Dr Katherine yesterday in the Illawarra. She said it was the first time that she felt optimistic about general practice in a very long time. With this tripling of the bulk billing incentive on top of other measures that we've introduced, including grants of up to $50,000 for general practices to be able to upgrade their equipment or their IT. With the single employer model, which we know will make it seamless for a doctor who's training in the hospital to move into general practice along with the investment we're giving to innovative models of care to support team based care. This will see a real shift in the number of doctors that go into general practice and doctors that are open to practicing outside of our major cities.

BRIDIE TANNER, HOST: Can you go back to that point about making it seamless for doctors to move from the training into a rural GP practice?

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: We know that across Australia we graduate about 3,000 Doctors each year. Of those doctors, if you include rural generalism, about just under 20% are open to going into general practice. But right now only 2 in 10 of those go into general practice outside of a major city. What we've seen is with a single employer model that means that a doctor can carry over with them the conditions of their employment at a hospital. They can stay employed by the local health district and then move into general practice and we've seen with the Murrumbidgee pilot that this has seen a big increase in doctors who made that leap to go into general practice. So I'm confident that across a range of measures from wiping the university debt for doctors that practice outside of major cities and that your debt is wiped the further that you work outside of your major city, the single employer model to make it easier for you to transfer from out where our doctors do their training in hospitals into general practice, with the GP grants, and with a tripling of the bulk billing incentive. I'm confident that this will shift the dial, that we'll see more junior doctors practice in communities like here in Lismore and we'll see the viability of general practice across Australia.

BRIDIE TANNER, HOST: Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Rural and Regional Health, Emma McBride, here with us on ABC North Coast. It's quarter to eight. You're a pharmacist, you went into pharmacy just after university. How are pharmacists feeling after the Budget? We heard some kickback about the 2 for one medication that people were getting. What's the reaction that you've heard from pharmacists?

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: What we want to see and what Minister Butler has said is that we want to make sure that medicines are more affordable. We know that with the cost of living crisis that many people are experiencing that cost of medicines are some of the biggest pressures on household budgets. Minister Butler had a report from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee that the former government didn't act on from 2018 that suggested that we could move to 90 day dispensing or 60 day dispensing. The decision that Minister Butler has taken in consultation, was the 60 day dispensing, which will mean that from the 1st of September, the first 100 medicines will be available. Which will mean that if your doctor, in consultation with you, determines that your condition is stable, and that it's appropriate for you to have 2 months medication at a time, that you'll be able to get those 2 months medication for what you previously paid for one. What we think that this will do is free up GP appointments and also mean that people can save money on their medicines. It is likely we will see about 6 million Australians be able to benefit from this so it's good for their health, it's good for their hip pocket, and it's good for our health care system.

BRIDIE TANNER, HOST: And what would you say to pharmacists and pharmacy owners who are worried that they're not seeing their regulars as regularly and also that there might be supply issues with those medications, especially in regional New South Wales?

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: All sectors have been impacted by supply chain problems through COVID. Health is no exception to that. So one of the things that we have done is made sure that all manufacturers now have to keep six months of medicines onshore in Australia. So that'll come into effect on the first of July which will make our supply chains more robust and make sure that there is a certainty of supply of critical medications. In respect to pharmacies, we want to see a thriving community pharmacy right around Australia, one in every city, in every town. There's 6,000 community pharmacies right across Australia, and we want to see them thrive. What we have announced is a scope of practice review, where we're looking at health practitioners across all disciplines being able to use all their skills and their training to the top of their scope so that Australians get the best health care. Also announced in the Budget was the National Immunisation Program will now be available for children over 5 through community pharmacies. I'm a pharmacist immuniser and I was giving jabs during COVID-19 pandemic and we know that having more services available for community pharmacy makes health care more accessible and more affordable for millions of Australians.

BRIDIE TANNER, HOST: Assistant Minister for Rural and Regional Health Emma McBride is with us on ABC North Coast this morning. Also the Assistant Minister for Mental Health. Did the Budget do enough for mental health this time around? We saw Minister Mark Butler defending his decision to halve the amount of subsidised psychology sessions from 20 to 10. Is that enough for people, especially in the Northern Rivers who might still be struggling mentally with the impacts of the flood?

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: This budget has seen over a half a billion dollar investment in Mental Health. We're addressing critical workforce shortages, extending critical services and addressing the urgent gaps and really laying the groundwork for the future work that we need to do. What we saw with the Better Access Initiative and this was an evaluation that was commissioned by the former government, their own report showed, that although it's called Better Access, what it showed was worse access, that the people living in places like Lismore, they were less likely to be able to get into the government subsidised system of psychological support services. What we're determined to do is turn that around so that wherever you live and whatever your bank balance is, you'll be able to access that care and support. Minister Butler and I held a forum at the end of January with people right across Australia from psychiatrists, psychologists, people with lived experience, and service providers to really work through what better system or better access would be. To make sure that every Australian can get access to the support and care that they need. We're continuing that work. What we will do is make sure that that work is co-designed with people with lived experience. So the people that know the system best have a seat at the table.

BRIDIE TANNER, HOST: Is it a similar thing with the 10 free sessions and the psychologists who are happy to honour that 10 free session plan with the GPs and the lack of GPs who are willing to bulk bill you? If you have your 10 free sessions in a regional place like Grafton, Lismore, Casino, do you have many options for the type of psychologists that you want to go and see? Or is there often just one or 2 that might do 10 free sessions now?

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: So how the system is set up and run is that someone will see their GP and then the GP will with them, develop a mental health treatment plan. With that treatment plan, they are then able to go and see a psychologist to have a subsidised session, with that there is a co-payment and the psychologist determines that co-payment and we also saw that those co-payments were continuing to rise. We are putting that care out of people's reach. Another measure that we introduced in the Budget was a new longer consult, and it means your GP can now spend 60 minutes with you. That will make a really big difference for someone coming to their GP needing some psychological support for their mental health and well being. We've also invested significantly in the pipeline of psychologists. So we've invested over $93 million to increase that pipeline of psychologists so that'll mean 500 more psychologists in training, 500 more intern psychologists, and we're also investing in supervisors so that those psychologists can get the supervision they need to practice independently. So what we're trying to do is make sure that you've got better access to your GP to be able to get that mental health treatment plan so that when you have that treatment plan that there'll be more psychologists available in places like Grafton or where I live in Wyong, on the Central Coast of New South Wales,

BRIDIE TANNER, HOST: Assistant Minister Emma McBride. I don't know how closely you've been following the crackdown on vaping. But there was an announcement of $234 million crackdown on vaping. How is that going? And when will we expect to stop seeing those vapes in everyone's hands?

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: This is something that has just become one of the biggest public health risks and challenges that we're facing in Australia today. As a pharmacist that's trained in tobacco control and nicotine cessation. So many people have spoken to me particularly parents and school teachers, about the scourge of vaping in our community, and the way that they are presented to communities were as a way to stop smoking. What they are is a gateway to smoking. We had some of the lowest levels of smoking, particularly amongst young people around the world. That was in part due to the reforms that former Labor government and Minister Nicola Roxon on plain packaging. So, we're going to stop the importation of vapes and we're going to work with the states and territories to make sure that if someone does need a vape as part of their nicotine cessation that they'll get it on a prescription through a pharmacy.

BRIDIE TANNER, HOST: Is it currently illegal to have a nicotine vape that wasn't through prescription or when will that become illegal?

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: So what's happened is over the summer, the Health Minister commissioned a report and that report was put together by the experts and we had more than 4,000 submissions, and it showed the deep concern that people have about access to nicotine vapes. So, the Federal Health Minister has set up a working group with the states and territory Health Ministers to really work together to be able to stamp out illegal vaping. So when people are getting these illegal vapes, they don't know necessarily what's in them and we've seen children as young as 3.

BRIDIE TANNER, HOST: But when you say illegal vapes, are they illegal?

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: At the moment the way that you should be able to obtain a vape is by being able to see your GP and to get a prescription and to be able to buy that through a pharmacy so people are getting these vapes under the counter. There is a black market of vapes and what we want to see is stopping it at the border, through stopping the importation of the vapes and making sure that people get them through the right channel, if it is suitable, safe and appropriate for them as part of their nicotine cessation.

BRIDIE TANNER, HOST: Assistant Minister for Rural and Regional Health and Assistant Minister for Mental Health, Emma McBride, will be at the GP Super Clinic in Lismore today talking to the clinicians there. Thanks for joining us this morning.

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: Pleasure to be with you.

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