Radio interview with Assistant Minister McBride and Fiona Parker, ABC Central Victoria Breakfast - 18 April 2024

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister McBride's radio interview with Fiona Parker on mental health service funding; Bendigo headspace; Bendigo bulk billing data.

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

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FIONA PARKER, ABC CENTRAL VICTORIA: So the services are there, but are there enough? And as the Prime Minister says, how much more could the government do? In the studio right now, we've got the Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, who's also the Assistant Minister for Rural and Regional Health, Emma McBride. Welcome to the studio and welcome to Bendigo.

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

FIONA PARKER: Let's talk a little bit about what's happening out there at the moment with all this big focus on mental health, part of your portfolio, do you think the federal government provides enough funding in that area?

EMMA MCBRIDE: Firstly, I just want to say on the tragedy in Bondi over the weekend, my thoughts are with the victims, their families and the wider community and to the first responders who acted bravely at this event in Bondi, I know that the New South Wales government will be holding a vigil this weekend, because as the Premier Chris Minns, said, it's so important at this time that our community comes together. Yesterday I spoke to the New South Wales minister responsible for Mental Health, Minister Rose Jackson. As your listeners may be aware, the Commonwealth has a national mental health and suicide prevention agreement with the states and territories and strong bilaterals with each of those jurisdictions, including Victoria. As the Prime Minister has said, mental health and the wellbeing of all Australians is one of the highest priorities of our government, and we're working in close collaboration in this instance with the New South Wales government, but more broadly, to make sure that those supports and services are there when people need them most.

FIONA PARKER: You say you're working closely, but do you think at the moment there is enough support? And why has it taken such a tragedy for the need for more services to come into focus?

EMMA MCBRIDE: I think that people in the community would always want to be able to access mental health services in crisis or in their day to day life. And as I mentioned, there is a national agreement and strong bilaterals with those. And in the last budget we committed close to $500 million towards mental health and wellbeing. At the moment, we’re expanding the network of headspace services and the six headspace services locally have received a boost in funding of more than $5 million for demand management, because we know distress is increasing in the community and people should be able to expect to receive that quality care close to home …

FIONA PARKER: [Interrupts] But they're not. They’re not, are they? You're hearing that loud and clear.

EMMA MCBRIDE: This is one of the things that- including with my responsibilities for regional and rural health that we know that there is an increase in distress in the community, which is why we are across the lifespan, introducing now kids’ hubs. We've introduced three in Victoria, we're introducing them across Australia. We're expanding our network of Head to Health- sorry, we're expanding our network of headspaces for 12 to 25 year olds, and I'm looking forward to visiting the one in Bendigo today. And we're also rolling out Head to Health adult services that started as pop ups during the COVID-19 pandemic. So there is a strong investment in collaboration. But I echo the Prime Minister's sentiments that there can always be more to be done, and we need to make sure that we're making- directing the right investment to the places that need it most so that people can access those services.

FIONA PARKER: Even the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists have sent the government a letter calling for more support. So that really shows how stark it is. They say they're experiencing burnout, they're feeling overworked. That's how much in demand they are.

EMMA MCBRIDE: And as a former mental health worker myself who worked in adult acute inpatient units for most of my working life, I really want to acknowledge the dedication and the contribution of our health care workers and including frontline workers, but also to recognise that there was problems that existed before the COVID-19 pandemic. They've then been exacerbated through that. And as a government and as a society, we are committed to doing more.

FIONA PARKER: You mentioned headspace. You're in town today visiting Bendigo headspace. ABC Central Victoria has heard from young people directly that waiting lists can be up to six months at the moment to see a psychologist at the headspace in Bendigo. What do you say to that?

EMMA MCBRIDE: This is one of the reasons why we have headspace demand management and enhancement funding to be able to reduce those wait times, because we know it is particularly risky when a young person or anybody reaches out for help, that they can get that help as soon as they need it. So through this enhancement funding that's gone through the Murray Primary Health Care Network, as I said, more than or close to $5 million across those six headspaces. And what we're seeing through that is they've been able to increase their staffing levels. They've been able to improve and increase their physical capacity in terms of the location. And also, I'm told they've been able to see more than 200 new young people to the service. So I'm interested to hear directly from those young people using the service today and for the wider community. But I would say at the same time that the government has recognised the need and has increased funding to try to meet that need, because we know of the growing distress amongst young people.

FIONA PARKER: So with that new money that you mentioned, when can the young people of Bendigo expect those wait lists to fall?

EMMA MCBRIDE: And this is what we're seeing in Bendigo and across the country, that there has been an increase in distress amongst young people, that there are many drivers to that distress. One of them was the social isolation and other impacts of COVID-19. Another is looking at employment or starting their working life. Some of these naturally resolve through their teenage years, but some of them remain. And so at the moment that funding is flowing now and people are- young people are seeing the benefit of that right now. But I'll be interested to meet with young people. Every headspace has a youth reference group, so we can hear from local young people directly about what enhancements they believe should be introduced and what's working well at the same time.

FIONA PARKER: So those waitlists can drop and so young people can see a psychologist and get that help sooner rather than later. However, there is only so much money to go around. Of course we have the budget coming up. Do you think this last week or so will mean there'll be more money for areas in your portfolio?

EMMA MCBRIDE: I've been working very determinedly with Minister Mark Butler, the Health Minister, to make sure that- to raise the profile and the prominence of mental health, the same time recognising the work that the states and territories are doing, but also the need, with growing distress in the community, particularly experienced amongst young people, for greater support. So I'll continue to work hard through this process, and I have spoken to the Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, to the Finance Minister, Katy Gallagher, a former health minister herself, and the government is very alive to the concerns of our community and determined to do what they can to be able to, boost funding and improve access to services.

FIONA PARKER: Because that then means you can reduce the cost on the health system later, you can reduce the need for emergency later on if people can get the help they need when they need it.

EMMA MCBRIDE: This is exactly right. And one of the things that we did as an incoming government, we saw that Medicare was in freefall. And so we tripled the bulk billing incentive. That's $3.5 billion. And what we've seen locally in Bendigo is an 8 per cent jump in bulk billing. That's more than 9000 local people that have been able to have a bulk billed visit to the GP since last November, saving them close collectively to $360,000 in gap fees.

FIONA PARKER: Yes, I tell you what, it's hard to find a bulk billing GP, [indistinct] you go back a year.

EMMA MCBRIDE: And this is the thing. And as an incoming government, we knew that. Medicare was in freefall. And as a pharmacist myself who's worked in community health, we know how important primary health care is. And that's why central to our- as an incoming government, to our last budget was the biggest investment in Medicare, bulk billing since Medicare was introduced 40 years ago.

FIONA PARKER: Emma McBride has been with us in the studio this morning, the Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention in the Federal Government and Assistant Minister for Rural and Regional Health in that government as well. So visiting headspace today, you're off to Kyneton as well, and also talking I know to our federal MP Lisa Chesters, of course, the federal member for Bendigo who also covers that- the area further south of Bendigo as well. So what are you hoping to get out of your visit to this region?

EMMA MCBRIDE: For me, it's so important to hear from local people directly about the services that they need, affordability and access is central to our conversation. So I was really, really pleased to see that big jump in bulk billing of almost 8 per cent, one of the largest across Australia, acknowledging that it had been really tough to see a local GP that would bulk bill you before that incentive was tripled. And I want to acknowledge the advocacy of the local member, Lisa Chesters, who has really fought hard for your local community to make sure that you get your fair share. And we know that it's harder in regional communities to be able to get access to care, and part of that is workforce. So these are the things that we'll be discussing today. And for me to hear directly, firsthand from clinicians, service providers and people accessing those services really means that we have a deeper understanding of the particular unique challenges, but also the strength and where it's working well in communities like Bendigo and Kyneton.

FIONA PARKER: Emma McBride, thank you for being in our studio this morning.

EMMA MCBRIDE: Good to be with you.

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