Radio Interview with Assistant Minister McBride and Rikki Lambert, FLOWFM - 9 March 2023

Read the transcript of the radio interview between Assistant Minister McBride and Rikki Lambert on rural health care; HELP debt; employer model; multidisciplinary care.

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

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RIKKI LAMBERT, HOST: Emma McBride is the Assistant Minister for Regional health. She joins us here on FlowFM across regional Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. How are you, Emma?

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: Very good, Rikki, so good to be with you today.

LAMBERT: Look, it's great to be chatting with you about regional health. It's been a strong focus for us, a lot of feedback from our listeners all over our broadcast areas. One of the main challenges they're facing is certainly getting in to see a doctor or even the doctor remaining in town, just how are we travelling in terms of attracting and even retaining doctors in our rural, regional and remote areas.

MCBRIDE: Rikki, this is something that is top of mind for the Albanese Labor Government, and as a regional and rural health Assistant Minister, I've visited many rural and remote communities. I've seen firsthand the impacts of the cut from the former government, and it has never been harder to see a doctor in a regional or remote community. This is something that we are determined to change and the government had committed $146 million to boost rural health care in the October Budget. We're helping from students in training by wiping their HELP debt, early career doctors by making it seamless to transition from working in a hospital to working in general practice and existing practices with WIP and another incentives to be able to boost the quality care and their financial stability. So we're helping from students in training, early career doctors to supporting practices in communities most at risk.

LAMBERT: Now, these practices, some of them are having to look overseas to bring a doctor in, and we've spoken with the head of the medical board recently about this. And there are fees attached to that. she says those fees are reasonable. But at a regional health forum staged by the shadow minister in Mildura last week, the feedback was that it was really expensive to get doctors in. Is there some way the government could be assisting in that area?

MCBRIDE: What we know Rikki and what we've seen, is that in order to have health workforce, and that's doctors, that's nurses, that's allied health practitioners, that we need to, they need to be homegrown. And that's why we're investing as a government in more doctors in training and supporting those who are open to it and willing to work in rural and regional communities. Yes, international medical doctors have been part of the rural and regional workforce, and we're very grateful for the contributions that they've made. But in terms of a longer term solution for a sustainable workforce, health workforce for Australians, we need to be training up local doctors, local nurses, local health care practitioners, so we can have the right health care practitioner in the right place at the right time. So wherever you live, whether it's Launceston in Tasmania or Cairns in far north Queensland, that you can get the care that you need.

LAMBERT: The immediate issue, and that's great what we're working towards long term, and that's been supported by the likes of the Rural Health Commissioner we spoke with recently, but when it comes to the immediate term, the Opposition's criticism has been that the Distribution Priority Areas added a whole lot of suburban areas, which has been a drain or the Rural Doctors Association have called it, referred to it, as a drain on doctors into those suburban areas. Is that policy going to stay in place? Or is there more to it than what's being described by the Opposition.

MCBRIDE: This this is quite complex, and there's their short, medium and longer term solutions, to be able to find, to recruit and to retain, and to properly support a thriving rural and regional health workforce. I'm pharmacists and I've worked in regional health care for all of my life until I was elected to Parliament. I've seen firsthand the challenges in recruiting and retaining health workers. And I've also seen the impact that has on local people who delay or avoid or can't afford care. This is something that, you know, drawing on my background, and my experience is something that is front of mind for me to make sure that every Australian wherever they live get the support and care they need. And what we're seeing Rikki, is that Australian medical graduates are mostly going into specialties other than general practice, and when they are working in general practice, they're working in big cities, and this is something that we need to turn around so that wherever you live, you can get that care close to home. And this is a problem that starts in the outer suburbs and continues across regional and remote and rural Australia.

LAMBERT: And this issue you mentioned there about the declining number. This has been noted with alarm by doctors across the country, the declining number that are studying general practice and there's this rural general specialist training that is now being developed, are there incentives that could be put behind that from a Federal Government point of view? I know you're under-riding HELP debts as it is, but to help get more people into general practice?

MCBRIDE: Yes, we are. We're working very closely, I know that you recently interviewed Professor Ruth Stewart, The Rural Health Commissioner, we're working very closely with Ruth, with the Colleges, with healthcare practitioners, with service providers to make sure that we have the right financial scaffolding in place. We know that for example, the single employer model, which was trailed in 2020, in Murrumbidgee has been very welcomed by junior doctors, helping to make that seamless transition between working in a hospital and working in general practice. But you're right, there is much more that we need to do and that we are doing. Minister Butler has been very focused on this through the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce. There's $750 million over three years, and he's working towards the recommendations of that taskforce towards the May Budget, to make sure that we have the right financial scaffolding, the right incentives, in place to make sure that it is an attractive profession for junior doctors to take up, and they have the right support for their practices so that we can have sustainable primary care across the whole of Australia.

LAMBERT: And just lastly, speaking with Dr. Ruth Stewart, the Rural Health Commissioner, we discussed with her and indeed with Anne Tonkin, the Head of the Medical Board, the multidisciplinary approach being used in regional Australia. As a pharmacist yourself, is there a greater role that we could be using in the regions in the appropriate circumstances for pharmacists, nurses, and other allied health professionals to deliver primary care?

MCBRIDE: We know that multidisciplinary care is the right care. And we know that all health care practitioners working to the top of their scope of practice, using all of their knowledge and skills and training in a collaborative way, provides the best health care outcomes for people. And as a pharmacist, I've seen that work in practice. I know working in mental health, the benefits of working with a social worker, an OT, a psych registrar, a psychologists, what that means to patient care, that really strong collaboration. It is the right model of care and I'm so pleased that we've been able to invest in $35 million to expand the innovative models of care program in more rural and remote communities. So we can properly support the right kind of care, to make sure that people across Australia are getting the health care when they need it.

LAMBERT: Well, Assistant Minister for Regional Health Emma McBride, thanks so much for joining us today. We look forward to talking again soon because it's a strong focus for us, a lot of feedback from our listeners. Thanks for joining us today.

MCBRIDE: Thanks Rikki.


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