Interview with Assistant Minister McBride and Scott Levi, ABC Central Coast - 2 March 2023

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister McBride's interview on bulk billing GPs and NSW 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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SCOTT LEVI, HOST: Does your GP bulk bill? Are there any let on the Central Coast who do? The Royal Australian College of GPs has warned that bulk billing rates will continue to fall unless there is a big investment in general practice. It comes following new released Medicare statistics which reveal that 80.5 per cent of all Medicare services were bulk billed during the recent December quarter, the last time the quarter figures dipped below that number was 2010/2011 when the figure was 80.2. Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Bank's GP Insight Report based on a survey of more than 200 practices nationwide has found that more than half the GPs surveyed 55 per cent plan to reduce bulk billing and increased gap fees with 38 per cent of practices surveyed, saying that they're already cutting back on bulk billing compared with just 3 per cent Who did the same in 2021. I think it's very hard to find a bulk billing GP and joining us, Emma McBride, the Member for Dobell who, of course made an election commitment to work on this problem. Good morning.

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: Good morning, Scott. Good to be with you.

LEVI: Yes. How are you going with this issue? Because it is, the facts don't lie, do they? You know, we're losing GPs, they're getting too old, they're retiring, the young ones aren't coming into general practice and we're also seeing overworked GPs having to charge gap fees and stop bulk billing, is that what you're hearing from your constituents?

MCBRIDE: This is front of mind for our Government and something that as a pharmacist who has worked in health in regional areas for all of my working life is something that I've seen firsthand. But recently I've had the chance to be in Launceston in Tasmania, in Cairns in Queensland, and right across Australia we're seeing the evidence of years of neglect of the former Government. And this is something that will take time to repair that we're determined to do in close collaboration with GPs, with the Colleges, to make sure that what we do is safe and that we can have the right healthcare workers in the right place so people can get affordable care close to home.

LEVI: Will the GP super clinics being proposed for the Central Coast or I guess they're more than proposed, I believe they're locked in, will they pick up the slack? Will they be able to turn things around?

MCBRIDE: Well, right after the election, we announced that the whole of the Central Coast was now a distribution priority area, and I know that's just another step, but it means that local general practices can recruit from a wider range, a bigger pool of doctors. Minister Butler also stood up for Strengthening Medicare Taskforce working with the Colleges, with general practitioners, they have recommendations that they're considering and working through in the budget process of a $750 million pool of funds to be directed towards general practice and primary care. Today, we'll be announcing the commencement of an expression of interest process for 14 Medicare urgent care clinics across New South Wales, including one on the north and one on the south of the Central Coast. These will be clinics that are part of $135 million investment. But each of these Scott are measures that the incoming Government is making in a very considered way, working with general practice, working with the Colleges to make sure that people can get the care they need close to home and affordably.

LEVI: It's thirteen-to-eight, ABC Central Coast, were speaking with the Member for Dobell, Emma McBride. Where will the Government's Medicare Urgent Care Clinics be located on the Coast?

MCBRIDE: So that'll be part of the expression of interest process which is open today. So an existing general practice, a community health centre, an Aboriginal community controlled health service, are all invited to express an interest in becoming a Medicare Urgent Care Clinic. This is open today, and a formal grant opportunity will follow led by the New South Wales Primary Health Networks. These clinics will mean that someone will be able to walk in without an appointment and be bulk billed rather than having to end up in the emergency department, and we know Scott, the pressure on the emergency departments in both Wyong and Gosford they were under strain before COVID, and that is only increased.

LEVI: You had the Federal Minister for Health Mark Butler on the Coast today, what's going to be announced?

MCBRIDE: So Minister Butler will be making this formal announcement that the registration of interest processes is open today for these 14 Medicare Urgent Clinics across New South Wales. This is part of that overall $135 million investment, and I'm so pleased that Minister Butler is visiting the Central Coast again. As his Assistant Minister I have the opportunity to work very closely with him so that he knows exactly the experience of people on the Coast. It's never been harder, as you said, to get into a GP, there books are closed. People are waiting weeks for routine appointments and ending up in Wyong Hospital, where I used to work. It's not good for them or their wellbeing and it's not good for our hospital system or for the economy.

LEVI: When do you think we'll see bricks and mortar? Was there any timeframe on your promise?

MCBRIDE: What we have said is that across Australia, we will establish 50 Medicare Urgent Care Clinics and that these will be started before the end of this year.

LEVI:  All right, thank you so much for joining us.


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