Radio interview with Assistant Minister McBride and Rod Sparks, ABC South East SA Mount Gambier - 7 March 2024

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister McBride's interview with Rod Sparks on Mount Gambier's Medicare Urgent Care Clinic; Head to Health.

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

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ROD SPARKS: Well, it's been almost four months since the Federal Government opened the Mount Gambier Medicare Urgent Care Clinic, designed to give patients a fully bulk billed healthcare option while taking the pressure off the hospital system. But how has it performed? The Minister for Rural and Regional Health and Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Emma McBride, joins us now. Good morning, Emma.

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

SPARKS: Thank you very much for making the time to speak to us. Well, it's been four months. how's it going?

MCBRIDE: The Federal Government committed to opening 58 urgent care clinics around the country, including here in- five right here in South Australia. And as you mentioned, the urgent care clinic, the Medicare Urgent Care Clinic in Mount Gambier, opened last November. And since then, there's been more than 2200 patients that have received care. That urgent care for a cut, a bite, a sting, a wound, that's free. Walk in without an appointment, fully bulk billed through Medicare. And we've already seen across the country that reducing pressure on our overstretched emergency departments, including the one here in Mount Gambier, where before the urgent care clinic was introduced, about 46 per cent of presentations were for semi-urgent or non-urgent care. Now that person can present to the urgent care clinic and get that care without an appointment, walk in free of charge when they need it and quickly.

SPARKS: The 2200, is that a good number over that period of time?

MCBRIDE: It is. We're seeing sometimes at the urgent care clinic at Mount Gambier up to 50 patients a day. That's a significant number of local people being able to receive the care that they need. And one in five of those patients are under 15, which shows that families are seeing this as a really- a safe alternative for quality care, affordably when they need it for urgent conditions.

SPARKS: So what's the reaction been from the health network?

MCBRIDE: From what we've seen right here in South Australia and around Australia. It's been overwhelmingly positive. We've seen- what the urgent care clinics were intended to do was provide that urgent medical care to people close to home and affordably, and reduce the pressure off our overstretched emergency departments. And that's what we're seeing, since the urgent care clinics opened across the country. The first one opened its doors last June; more than 205,000 people around Australia have received urgent care bulk billed free of charge.

SPARKS: So you would think that would be taking some pressure off the hospitals. Are there- is there data to support that?

MCBRIDE: Yes, there is early data to support that. And we're seeing in different parts of the country, and I've had in my role the opportunity to visit urgent care clinics in Townsville, in Queensland, in Hobart, in Tasmania, and I'll be heading off to the urgent care clinic in Mount Gambier later today. But we've already seen early data that's showing that the urgent care clinics are taking pressure off the emergency departments, because we know the emergency rooms are stretched. And the doctors and nurses there are working really hard – dedicated, capable people – but we really needed to reduce that pressure, and we're seeing early evidence of that.

SPARKS: Have we seen a reduction in cost of running the hospitals? I mean, the cost of these urgent care clinics must be significant, their establishment and maintenance.

MCBRIDE: So the cost of the urgent care clinics, so this was an investment of close- more than 400- close to sort of $400 million. And, what we're seeing is that the Commonwealth, as you would be aware, has a national health agreement with the states and territories. And so part of that agreement last December, the Commonwealth agreed to increase the urgent care network because the states and territories are already seeing the benefits of it to their jurisdictional health services.

SPARKS: Okay. Now, when the urgent care clinic opened here in Mount Gambier, there was a little bit of confusion about the hours that it was going to be open. And what are the hours that it's currently being opened?

MCBRIDE: Yeah. So in Mount Gambier, the current hours are 9AM ‘til 8PM Monday to Friday, and 10AM to 9PM on Saturday and Sunday. And these hours are obviously subject to expansion, depending on the local community need and working with the primary health networks which are commissioning them with local general practices. And I'm looking forward to talking to Doctor Richard Try from Mount Gambier Family Health, who is the local practitioner who is running the urgent care clinic here in your community.

SPARKS: Now, this is obviously for physical health – you know, bites, stings, cuts, bruises. What about mental health? What's happening in the mental health sphere?

MCBRIDE: So in mental health we have seen an increase in the prevalence of distress across our communities. Whether that's- I know right now in your community, there's been a bushfire and a response by the Country Fire Service overnight, but natural disasters, COVID, cost of living pressures – we know that those can all drive distress. And what we want to do is make sure that people can get services close to home affordably. So we're rolling out 61 adult Head to Health centres across Australia, including four right here in South Australia. And with the Head to Health service, somebody can walk in without a referral, without an appointment and receive information, support and care. And that could be urgent support in a crisis or long going, ongoing support from a multidisciplinary team for more moderate to severe mental ill health concerns.

SPARKS: So this- these are- this is a new initiative, is it? These…

MCBRIDE: This is a new initiative. On the East Coast, they started as pop ups during the COVID-19 pandemic. The one that is here in Mount Gambier opened in July and went- moved to its permanent location in November. And already it's seen more than 700 contacts, so we know that there is increasing demand for mental health services. And we want to make sure that wherever you live, you can get that access affordably close to home. And one of the big advantages of these Head to Health centres is that you don't need a referral, so you don't need to see a GP to get a referral. You don't need an appointment. So you can walk in and get information, support and care. And they're staffed by multidisciplinary teams. So you can get that wraparound support and care that is the right kind of care for mental health, particularly for people in distress. I'm a former mental health worker myself, and I know that that kind of model is the best model to see people getting the support and care that they need. And we've got 20 up and running already around Australia, and I've had the chance to visit many of them. And they're also flexibly designed so that they can work with the existing support services within that community so that you've got good integration, less fragmentation, and for people an easier way to navigate the system and get the support and care they need.

SPARKS: Okey-dokey. So actually, my ignorance here, where is the head for health in Mount Gambier, or in the region?

MCBRIDE: Yeah. So the one in Mount Gambier is co-located with Focus One Health, an existing mental health hub in the community, and I’ll be heading off there later today to be able to meet with the staff there. The exact location is Unit 7, 165 Commercial Street East in Mount Gambier, and it’s co-located in that existing Focus One Mental Health Hub.

SPARKS: Minister, thank you very much for calling in.

MCBRIDE: Pleasure to be with you, Rod.

SPARKS: That was Emma McBride, who is the Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Services, and also the Assistant Minister for Rural and Regional Health.

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