MICHAEL CLARKE, HOST: This Wednesday, the 12th of April in 2023. Goodness me the time has moved along, hasn't it? But one thing that doesn't really change is the need for good health care wherever you live. And in Townsville, that has been such a big issue in the city for a long while now, but more so when you go outside of busy centres. Maybe your community doesn't even have a GP anymore. What's that, like? Well, someone who knows all about these issues and is in North Queensland, to talk about them and on hand for a very important reason today is Emma McBride, who's the Assistant Minister for Health, Regional Health, Rural and Regional Health, and also Suicide Prevention is with us today, Assistant Minister, welcome to the show. How are you?
EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: Thank you so much. It's so good to be here in Townsville today.
MICHAEL CLARKE, HOST: Now, you're here for a very important reason, as we've been saying in the news, today, there's a new 33 Bed Acute Admissions Unit about to be opened at the Townsville University Hospital, you'll be heading from here to there to do that. How significant is this unit?
EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: This is absolutely critical for the local community, with the growing demands that you see in Townsville and the surrounds, this is an investment from the Commonwealth of $13 million to be able to get this unit up and running. And what admission units do, is improve patient flow from the emergency department through to those specialist inpatient units. So people can quickly and safely get the specialist care that they need. At the same time, they then free up beds in the emergency department. So other people that present, can be treated and seen quickly and safely as well. We know that there's growing demand on hospitals right across Australia, and particularly in our more remote and regional communities. So I'm so pleased to be here today, with the State MP to officially open the Acute Admission Unit, which I know will be a big boost to healthcare, particularly for local people.
MICHAEL CLARKE, HOST: Why is a unit like this necessary, as opposed to say, expanding the emergency units?
EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: What we know is that certain triage categories need to be quickly and safely moved to a specialist unit. It might be that somebody needs particular diabetes care, and they need to be under an endocrinologist in a specialist unit. So what we know is, and we've seen evidence of this across Australia, including at a hospital that I used to work in, is that if you can move patients to the right unit quickly and safely, there'll be less delays in their care, safer and more appropriate treatment, where and when they need it.
MICHAEL CLARKE, HOST: So obviously, this is something that the hospital has needed for some time, would you say this been on part of the wish list for a long time?
EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: This is something that the Townsville University Hospital has needed for some time. I'm so pleased that we're being able to officially open the unit today, which will be seeing patients from the 18th of April, it'll be a big boost to healthcare in the local community. It also helps the staff who have been under incredible strain before COVID, but particularly through COVID, to have the right kind of state of the art unit with the equipment that they need, set up for the patients that they're there to care for.
MICHAEL CLARKE, HOST: You say through COVID, COVID is still occurring. I know there's quite a lot of staff from the hospital who are affected by COVID at the moment. How are we dealing with that? It seems as if you know whenever I'm hearing about hospitals, certainly here in Townsville, but around the nation. Staffing is such a critical issue. It doesn't seem as if we're meeting that demand, we've got so many staff off at the moment.
EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: It is absolutely critical. As a pharmacist myself, who worked at the local hospital in my community for almost 10 years, I know how much strain healthcare workers were on, particularly in the more regional and remote parts of Australia. This has been a long term problem, which has only been worsened through the COVID 19 pandemic. With my particular focus on mental health, what I'm also acutely aware of, is the impact that this has on people's well being and make sure that we are properly protecting staff. We're doing some really good work with the Black Dog Institute to make sure that there is the right kind of mental health care and support available to staff. But it's something that has been a problem for decades in the most regional and rural parts of Australia. It's something that we're determined to turn around.
MICHAEL CLARKE, HOST: I know that it's probably more of a question for Queensland Health authorities, but how do we deal with that staffing issue? Here, when you know, it's an ongoing issue, we thought it may have just been during the pandemic but it seems as if it's stretching on, that need for more staff.
EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: We know that we have to create a pipeline of local health care workers and we're doing that and part of that is wiping the health debt. So if you're an Australian doctor who's graduated this year, and you choose to work in the most rural and remote parts of Australia, then your university debt will be wiped and we know that that'll impact.
MICHAEL CLARKE, HOST: How many are taking that up?
EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, we expect, and this is on the Department's figures, we expect that there'll be about 800 doctors that take up that opportunity. We're also looking at what's known as a Single Employer Model which gives flexibility to a doctor who has trained through the local hospital, say, the Townsville University Hospital and wants to work as a GP in the local community, they can then transfer their conditions and their entitlements across from one to the other, to smooth that transition from working in the public health system in a hospital to working as a general practitioner. We're also looking at innovative models of care, what I've seen through this role is that there are so many really effective local solutions and that's what the Innovative Models of Care grant funding allows people to do, to be able to scale up an idea, or to look at how to make it more sustainable. We're seeing some really good innovations, particularly around team-based care. So bringing in all the different health care workers that are required for somebody's care. So where I used to work in mental health, that would be a psychologist, a social worker, an occupational therapist. So I'm really excited to see some of the innovations that are coming out of this funding, and the opportunity to then roll them out and upscale them.
MICHAEL CLARKE, HOST: When we say innovative, is that just another way though, of saying we don't have enough doctors, so we'll just get other staff to carry that load?
EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: I think what we've seen in Australia and around the world, that the right kind of care is team based care, that for a particular person, and to go back to the person that I said might present, you know, with hyperglycemia associated with their diabetes, that it might be yes, of course, that they need an endocrinologist but also part of their care, they need a dietician, they need an exercise physiologist. So it's about having that complete team, bringing their different skills and expertise and knowledge to provide the right kind of care and support for a patient. So I think what we've seen in Australia and around the world is that team based care is the right kind of care and it does also boost our healthcare workforce.
MICHAEL CLARKE, HOST: I know your time here, it's brief, you're here in Townsville, then you're going up into the far north for a number of commitments there but in some of our other North Queensland communities, when we talk about areas like Bowen to the south, or we're talking Hughenden, inland, some of those communities have really had an issue where they haven't had any doctors or very few GP's to actually meet the demands of the community. What more can we do to encourage medical graduates to become GP's? That seems to be such a key factor. No one wants to be a GP anymore.
EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: What's changed is, when I first started working as a pharmacist, about half of medical graduates became general practitioners, specialised in general practice and others became other specialists, and particularly working in our hospital system. That has shifted over time. We know in Australia today, we graduate about 3000 medical students or new doctors a year and of those about 20 per cent initially expressed an interest in working in general practice of that 20 per cent, about 2 in 10 work outside of a major city. This is something that we must turn around and one of the most effective ways of growing a health workforce is growing local community. We've seen that through James Cook University, where they now graduate about 40 per cent of the healthcare workforce for Far North Queensland, where you have local students who are a part of those communities who get to study in their community, who get to do their training in their community or similar communities, and then continue to live and work in those communities. That's one of the most successful ways we have of growing and sustaining a long term health workforce. It means that local students can live and work in the community that they grew up in and a part of, and it means that the local communities benefit from having those specialist health care workers close to home.
MICHAEL CLARKE, HOST: Do you ever see a time when it gets so much of a crisis that we would need to mandate that a certain number of medical graduates be GP's?
EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: There have been different approaches that have been taken in different parts of the world and in different jurisdictions in Australia. What I think is that in talking to the Australian Medical Association Student Representatives, one of them is from Launceston in Tasmania, another one is from Queensland, the President and the Vice President. What they said to me was that what really changes a medical students view of general practice is being in a general practice in placement, where they've got the right kind of guidance and supervision and a scaffolding around them to be successful. So I think, I know that one of the other parts of it is having really quality placements where they've got the right kind of supervision and support and mentorship. And I think that's where we've seen good success as well.
MICHAEL CLARKE, HOST: So many things to talk about. I guess that discussion will keep going. And I'm sure there'll be waiting for you at the hospital very soon for that news today of the new 33 bed acute admissions unit which you're about to open. Assistant Minister, Emma McBride, thank you so much for being with us this morning.
EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: It's good to be with you.
MICHAEL CLARKE, HOST: Talking about health today with Emma McBride, who is the Assistant Minister for Health and Suicide Prevention, also the Assistant Minister for Rural and Regional Health joining us on the program today.