Assistant Minister McBride – speech at the Australia and New Zealand Academy for Eating Disorders Conference – 25 August 2023

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister McBride's speech at the Australia and New Zealand Academy for Eating Disorders Conference on the Gold Coast.

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

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It’s a pleasure to be here.

Before I begin, I want to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to Elders past and present.

I extend that respect to First Nations people with us today.

This year, Australians will be asked whether the Constitution should be altered to recognise our First Peoples by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

But importantly, this referendum is about making a real difference in Indigenous health, education, employment and housing, so people have a better life.

No one in Australia should have worse health because of the circumstances of their birth and yet our first nations people experience preventative disease and early death.

What is clear is what we have been doing so far has not been working and the Voice is our best chance to change that.

I also acknowledge the contributions of people with a lived and living experience of mental ill-health, as well as those bereaved by suicide.

Similarly, their families and kin, and those who are carers of people living with mental ill-health, who love and have loved them, and who are making invaluable contributions to improving our systems of care in Australia.

All of us here know too well that eating disorders are among the most lethal of mental health disorders.

Despite increasing investment in services and treatment, we still don’t know enough about how to prevent eating disorders and to support someone with an eating disorder.

Access to care is patchy, inconsistent, difficult to navigate and often not evidence-based.

Only a quarter of people with eating disorders are known to the health system, 70 per cent will not receive treatment and of those who do only 20 per cent receive evidence-based treatment.

So, what our government is doing is investing in all stages.

From research, to early identification, to treatment and care.

We know that we cannot focus on one thing alone, we need to better understand the entire picture so that in turn we can create a better system of support and care.

So, let’s start with research.

Fortunately, in Australia we have some of the very best research institutions and dedicated researchers working hard to build our knowledge base and importantly, turn that research into care.

We have continued that work most recently with funding through the Medical Research Future Fund Million Mind’s Mission.

In the latest round, a project through the University of Melbourne will develop ScreenED – a reliable, high-quality, freely-available screening tool for earlier diagnosis of eating disorders in children aged 5 to 12 years.

That is important work.

We also know that research, much like the challenges we face, is not static. It is constantly changing.

That is why we are committed to continue to support the study of eating disorders so that we continue to grow our evidence base.

When it comes to early identification, we need to make sure all our health professionals are equipped.

A lot of work has also been done on early intervention.

In making eating disorders front and centre for mental health services, staff at Australia’s network of Head to Health and headspace centres have taken up the opportunity to participate in skills development training programs to build their capacity to identify and treat eating disorders.

There has also been targeted Government investment through specific Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items for eating disorders and new specialised treatment services delivered in the community setting, targeted at addressing gaps in the system of care.

That includes longer consults with GPs to give patients the time they deserve and doctors the ability help.

But identification is only as good as the care it can lead to. That is why we are investing in treatment.

This includes work in prevention programs such the Butterfly Foundation’s Body Bright Program, providing curriculum resources and education to school teachers and parents to promote healthy attitudes and behaviours towards the body, food, and physical exercise.

We are aware that not everyone can access care where they live, or they may prefer to access care in new ways.

That’s why we are funding an eClinic through the InsideOut Institute that will make digital interventions available for free, to people across Australia, regardless of their location.

The eClinic will provide national access to evidence based digital therapies either by referral or directly to the client. It addresses a gap in the Stepped System of Care by enabling broad access to effective care regardless of geography, setting or circumstance.

We also know that we cannot undertake this important reform alone.

The theme for this year’s conference of “It takes more than a village” is such an important message for us all.

It is only if we take a coordinated and compassionate approach to prevention, early identification and treatment that we can improve the lives of people with eating disorders.

”More than a village” is broader than specialist eating disorder services alone.

It is making sure all mental health services consider eating disorders as part of “core business” and feel equipped to support people living with eating disorders.

“More than a village” means mental health services working together across levels of government, and between the public and private systems, to address all parts of the eating disorder system of care, regardless of who funds the service.

It means seamlessly supporting the physical and mental health care of an individual to support full recovery.

And “more than a village” goes beyond the health care system too, into our schools, sporting clubs, workplaces and communities.

It is only by working together that we can create an effective system that puts people at the centre, one that can help reduce the prevalence and impact of eating disorders.

I know there will be robust discussions over the next two days about what’s working, and what’s not – those with research to demonstrate their effectiveness, and shared experiences of what has helped individuals with a lived and living experience.

These discussions are what help inform government policy.

These discussions make an impact and save lives.

Thank you for taking the time to attend, to contribute and to help improve the eating disorders systems of care.

I know there are considerable challenges ahead.

I will continue to work with all of you to support access and address gaps.

I thank all of you who dedicate your careers to helping people recover from eating disorders and go on to live their best lives.

Thank you.

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