Assistant Minister McBride – press conference in Umina – 27 September 2023

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister McBride about the Central Coast Medicare Urgent Care Clinics and Central Coast Distribution Priority Area.

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

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DR GORDON REID, MEMBER FOR ROBERTSON: Well, thank you all so much for coming today. My name is Dr Gordon Reid I'm the Federal Member for Robertson and I'm here with Assistant Minister Emma McBride, the Member for Dobell, and Assistant Minister for Regional and Rural Health and Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, and also with Dr Raymond, one of the fantastic GPs that we have here on the Central Coast here at Providence Medical.

Today is a really exciting day. We know that health care access right across Australia, but particularly here on the Central Coast has been quite challenging for quite some time. In particular, we've seen our emergency departments see increase in numbers and presentations, particularly for those non-urgent non-critical presentation, so as triage category four and triage category five presentations. That's what the Urgent Care Centre program is all about, rolling out 58 of these clinics right across the country, with two here on the Central Coast, one in the south and one in the north. They're if you're too sick for the GP, but not sick enough to go to the emergency department for adults and kids. They'll be bulk billed with extended operating hours so that people on the Central Coast and particularly here in the electorate of Robertson can receive timely, affordable bulk billed access to health care.

And with that, I am proud to announce that the successful applicant in the tender process, of the EOI process, for the Urgent Care Centre is Providence Medical Group, here with Dr Raymond Fam. I in particular want to thank the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese for his support, his guidance, in building this program alongside the Minister for Health Mark Butler, also to the Assistant Minister for Regional and Rural Health Emma McBride standing with me today, and Assistant Minister Ged Kearney. This is only possible under an Albanese Labor Government because we were elected to not only strengthen Medicare, but also expand health care access and support services right across the country in particular, here on the Central Coast. And with that, I'll hand over to Assistant Minister Emma McBride to make some additional comments.

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER:  Thank you very much, Dr Reid. I'm so proud to be standing here in Umina today as part of what is a national program to expand access to care so that people, particularly people in the regions, can get affordable care close to home.

We know that people have been delaying or avoiding care and ending up in the emergency department clogging up our already stretched system. This will make such a big difference to local people that they'll be able to walk in without an appointment and only need their Medicare card to get quality and affordable care close to home. It is one of the top issues that people talk to Gordon and I about on the Central Coast, and in my responsibility as Assistant Minister for Regional and Rural Health, right around Australia.

We know that the further you live outside of a major city, the worse your health outcomes are likely to be, and a big part of that is access to care. So this is a really big investment from the Albanese Labor Government in quality care for people living all around Australia.

As Gordon has mentioned, there'll be two on the Central Coast, one in the south and one in the north. I'm very pleased to announce that one in the north will be Coastal Lakes Medical Practice at Lake Haven. We know how much the north of the Central Coast is growing, how rapid that expansion has been, lots of young families and older people who really need access to care close to home and affordably. So I'm so pleased to be here as part of the Central Coast team as part of the Labor health team, which is making a really big investment.

This is on top of our investment in Medicare and strengthening Medicare. We've indexed  the Medicare rebate and we've tripled the bulk billing incentive, so that it means that people living in the most regional and remote parts of Australia will be able to get much more affordable access to care. I might now hand over to Dr. Raymond and we really want to thank the PHN for the work that they've done through this process to make sure that we've got quality local providers that are committed to providing care to people in our community when they need it. Thank you.

DR RAYMOND FAM, PROVIDENCE MEDICAL: Thank you. So I'm so pleased today for this announcement, I think almost all the doctors on the team believe it's our duty to take care of for patients and we don't want our patients to be waiting for a long time in emergency departments in different hospitals. We find this as a very good opportunity to help the community who rely a lot on the emergency department. We will do our best to provide the best service to our community and our people. Thanks.

JOURNALIST: As a doctor, working in the area. Do you believe that this will take pressure off the hospitals.

FAM: I believe so. Yeah, it will, because a lot of presentations on hospital, like Dr Reid said, category four or five, we can manage them here, infections, colds, fractures all that stuff. I think we have a big load on the emergency system.

JOURNALIST: How many doctors do you have working in this clinic?

FAM: We have around nine now and we're hoping we can get more doctors.

JOURNALIST: Where are you going to be pulling the doctors from?

REID: So there's been a few changes that were made since the federal election in 2022, and one of those were the changes to the Distribution Priority Area, the entire region of the Central Coast has now been made a Distribution Priority Area, opening up the available doctors to come to the region. I know to that Providence Medical, and the team at Providence Medical also been extensively advocating for doctors to come to the clinic and come to the region, but also to working with Assistant Minister McBride, working with the PHN and also to working with the universities to make sure that medical students are picking general practice as a specialty.

Less than 10 per cent of all medical students across the country are picking general practices as a specialty and that number is just not good enough. We know that we need to adequately support primary care, so that we can take pressure off our GPs, take pressure off our emergency departments. And part of that is making sure that the workplace is a supportive workplace for general practitioners. And as Assistant Minister McBride said, the partial re-indexation of the bulk billing rate, tripling of the bulk billing incentive, these are all things that are not only going to help patients access health care, but also to make the job more attractive for medical students entering into general practice. So it's not a 'this is the magic bullet,' it's a suite of policies that are going to help patients access health care and also to get more doctors and more medical students selecting general practices as a specialty.

JOURNALIST: That distribution that you're talking about, is that with the MM regulations?

REID: It's sort of coupled with that it is slightly separate to that. So the Distribution Priority Area, the old workforce shortage areas. The MM scale that you're referring to, the Modified Monash Classification, is a scale of rurality, where the Central Coast is combined MM one and MM two. And again, I just wanted to thank not just the Prime Minister, the Assistant Minister Emma McBride and Minister Mark Butler for those changes that were made initially, in July last year, three months after the federal election, those changes were made because we know that health care access has been an issue here on the Central Coast and we just want to see it expanded.

As a doctor who continues to work in the emergency department here on the Central Coast, the opening of this Urgent Care Centre will make a difference. Like I said, if you're too sick for the GP, not sick enough for the emergency department, we know that there's a significant patient load within that cohort that attend our emergency department. So things like a cut that needs suturing or stitches that doesn't require surgical intervention, minor wound care for IV antibiotics or drip antibiotics, simple fracture reduction with a plaster in the light, if somebody needs imaging or pathology, we know that's nearby. This is going to provide holistic bulk billed medical services for people here, but not just on the peninsula as well I should add, also the entire Central Coast region and that's really important along with the Member for Dobell's Urgent Care Centre up in Lake Haven.

JOURNALIST: You were just saying it's a combination of MM one and MM two, a few medical staff have been saying that they would like to see it all become MM to stop doctors being sent out regional and rural. Is there any chance of that happening to keep them here on the coast?

REID: So you're right. This has been advocated to me by not just medical administrators, but also to medical professionals and practitioners here on the Central Coast. And that's something that I'm making representations to the Minister for Health Mark Butler about, but I don't want that to detract from today. And that is not just the announcement that Providence Medical will be the Urgent Care provider here in the electrical Robertson but also to those DPA changes that were made and some other changes around the peripheries as well, all of which is going to help increase workforce and workforce supply, which has been an issue for quite some time.

JOURNALIST: What will be the hours of operations of these new Urgent Care Clinics?

REID: So the idea is that they need to have extended operating hours but not operate 24/7, because if they operate 24/7, they essentially become another emergency department. And while the facilities here at Providence Medical are fantastic, they’re world class, they're second to none, it's not in terms of size, the same size as an emergency department. So those extended operating hours here, for example, potentially could be around the 8.30am to 8.30pm mark, that's Monday to Friday, and then extended operating hours on Saturday and Sunday as well, plus access to pathology and imaging.

So it's extended operating hours so that when you're outside the business hours, which is generally when people tend to get sick, I know that firsthand, Friday afternoon rocks round, and that's when you get your injury or that's when you become unwell, but don't quite need to go to the emergency department, that's the time that you're going to be needing to access these services. So extended operating hours 8.30am till 8.30pm, roughly, and then extended operating hours on the weekend, and also to I should mention for adults and children, because it's not just adults that get sick outside of operating hours, our little ones right across the Coast right across the country need that care as well. And I know that the doctors in the Urgent Care Centres on the Central Coast will be able to provide that.

JOURNALIST: And is there anything potentially for these Urgent Care Clinics to be built any closer to hospitals like near Gosford or Wyong, because people that live near the hospitals might not want to drive or can't get out to Umina or Lake Haven.

REID: So it's a balance, you need to make sure that the Urgent Care Centre is not too far away from the hospital or the emergency department, in case someone rocks up to the Urgent Care Centre with say, acute myocardial infarction or heart attack or a CVA, a stroke. We need to make sure that if those legitimate, emergent life-threatening conditions do occur or do arise at the Urgent Care Centre they need to be able to get to the emergency department quickly. However, we don't want it to close to the emergency department because then you won't see a diversion of those non urgent cases going to the Urgent Care Centre or going to the general practitioner where they need to be so it's a balance and working with the PHN during this tender process, we feel we've got that combination right here on the peninsula. This is a population of tens of thousands of people, and while again, there are some great local general practitioners here, particularly at Providence Medical, we just need to make sure that this area is adequately serviced with urgent care services and that's part of the reason. Thank you.


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