Radio interview with Assistant Minister McBride and Susan Graham-Ryan – ABC Radio Queensland – 30 January 2024

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister McBride's radio interview in Townsville with ABC Radio Queensland on Medicare Urgent Care Clinics, Cyclone Kirrily, mental health, headspace and 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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Presenter, Susan Graham-Ryan: If you've lived in regional Queensland for a while you know how hard it can be to access some health services with long travel times, long wait times, and a lack of appointments with specialists, but the Medicare Urgent Care Clinic in Townsville is hoping to change the health game and take pressure off the system as a whole. Emma McBride, the Federal Assistant Minister for Rural and Regional Health is joining me now in the studio to tell you more. Good morning, hopefully you're staying as cool as you can be in North Queensland, very hot at the moment. Firstly, why were these Urgent Care Clinics created? What was identified in Townsville that this needed to come through? 

Assistant Minister McBride: The Urgent Care Clinics are a really important investment in local community health, affordable care, close to home. The Government has opened now 58 Urgent Care Clinics right around Australia, including 11 in Queensland and I've just visited the Urgent Care Clinic in Townsville. It opened its doors 6 weeks ago and has already seen 1600 patients, about a third of them children under 15. What an Urgent Care Clinic does is provide urgent but not life-threatening care. It's going to be reducing demand on the emergency room in Townsville University Hospital and providing that care close to home, affordably. 

Presenter: That pressure on the emergency department is something that we hear about a whole lot. Has it been successful in reducing those numbers at ED and getting people helping sooner? 

Assistant Minister McBride: We know that at emergency departments many presentations are non-urgent or semi-urgent. And I've heard this morning that Townsville emergency room normally sees around 258 presentations a day and the Urgent Care Clinic is seeing about 38. So that is already, in just 6 weeks, significantly reducing the impact on the emergency department and allowing emergency teams to do that critical, emergency, life-threatening care, whilst the Urgent Care Clinic can deal with other urgent but non-life-threatening presentations. 

Presenter: So, tell us a bit about some of those different services and those different things that people might go to the clinic for. 

Assistant Minister McBride: So many people are presenting for lacerations, they can go to the Urgent Care Clinic. They've had a major cut, they'll be seen probably within 45 minutes, or an hour compared to the long wait sometimes up to 4, 5, 6 hours in the hospital emergency department and they can be patched up straightaway and then sent home. That is making such a big difference to local people getting bulk billed medical care in a really timely way and close to home. 

Presenter: That was going to be my next question because the other issue that people are having is with GPs, now it's hard to get in, but they're not they're not being bulk billed. So this is bulk billed? 

Assistant Minister McBride: The 58 Urgent Care Clinics across Australia are all fully bulk billed. All someone needs to do is take their Medicare card and they'll be fully bulk billed for that urgent care. That is making a really big difference to affordable care and making sure that people get that care, close to home, and in a really timely way. 

Presenter: So you said that there is 11 across Queensland, where some of these other centres and when will we see more of these? 

Assistant Minister McBride: We do have, as I mentioned, 11 in Queensland at the moment and I'm meeting with Minister Shannon Fentiman this afternoon and there is strong interest in the expansion of the Urgent Care Program. I know in other states and territories that the jurisdictions are looking at working with the Commonwealth Government towards that. So I think this is a really important investment in care, particularly regional care, and really keen to continue working in close partnership with the Queensland Government to be able to see the Urgent Care Clinics working as effectively as they can be and providing that care in communities. 

Presenter: I'm speaking with Emma McBride, the Federal Assistant Minister for Rural and Regional Health in the studio today and we have been talking a lot lately about the weather and the cyclone relief and recovery. Many people across regional Queensland are feeling some form of impacts from the different weather events, we're seeing some in the south at the moment, flooding, cyclones. Mental health does play a big part in these impacts. What mental health help has the government thought of for the disaster response?

Assistant Minister McBride: This is something that we're working very closely with Minister Murray Watt, the Minister for Emergency Management, and last year we launched the National Disaster Mental Health and Wellbeing Plan to make sure that in a nationally consistent way that individuals and community will be able to get the support and care that they need. Locally, in Townsville, there is a Head to Health, one of the first that was opened. At a Head to Health an adult can walk in without an appointment, without a referral, and be able to get mental health information, advice, and care. I'll be opening a new Head to Health in Kingaroy tomorrow which is part of our rollout of 61 Head to Health's around the country and making a really big difference in that access to mental health support and care. At the same time, we know that frontline workers are equally impacted so working with the Blackdog Institute, we're supporting the National Emergency Workers Support Service, it means that a frontline worker either volunteer or paid worker, current worker or retired can access free mental health support and care because we know that the prevalence of mental health distress and disorder amongst frontline workers is much higher than in the wider population. 

Presenter: I'm going to talk some more about mental health. Recently, there has been increasing instances of police interactions with people who are experiencing a mental health episode, people who are needing help. And in some of these cases that's leading to some serious clashes and in some cases, fatalities. Why does this happen? 

Assistant Minister McBride: What I think we're seeing, and I am going to be heading to headspace later on this morning. We've seen in headspace council that since last July, we've had more than 400 presentations and of those, almost about 200 new presentations. So what we are seeing in Far North Queensland and Australia is increasing distress in communities and we want to make sure that people have the right kind of support and care, when and where they need it. So with my responsibilities for Mental and Suicide Prevention, we're making sure that those services are available, for headspace 12 to 25 year olds,  Head to Health for other adults, and we're also introducing Kids Hubs for early intervention in a more timely way. I think when we see an effective response is where we see an empathetic response and a compassionate response, and I see some really effective interventions where we have a mental health worker attending with a police officer and sometimes also a paramedic. So at that presentation rather than the person becoming escalated or distressed, they can have an empathetic and compassionate response. I think it's really important that in some of these instances, if there is an underlying distress or crisis, that that's triggered in a health response, sometimes rather than a justice response. 

Presenter: You mentioned about access to services when and where we need it. That's a big challenge for a lot of people in regional Queensland, people in regional areas, as well as in cities. There's a real drought when it comes to the availability of appointments at a cost-effective rate. How do we make more appointments and make more options available to people so that they're able to have that proactive mental health care before it gets to this point where it has to be reactive?

Assistant Minister McBride: Part of that, as I mentioned, is we're rolling out nationally, Head to Health Kids Hubs so that there can be a family including family response and early intervention at the right time and with the child developmental response. We're also boosting the headspace network. We now have more than 100 headspaces across the country and many of those are in regional communities to improve access, close to home, for young people. And then there's a broader expansion of the 61 Head to Healths' nationally. We're also working on digital, because we know that for a lot of people that to improve access, particularly timeliness and access, digital platforms can be very effective for that support and care and also that sort of low intensity intervention. That means that people can get the right kind of support and care before that distress might escalate to a crisis where they're presenting at an emergency department. 

Presenter: So is remote being considered, I guess, for the for the digital aspects that's where remote is being considered?

Assistant Minister McBride: As part of the response to better access, the former government's support for psychological care. As part of the review, one of the findings of the review was that people who most needed care, were often not able to access it, particularly people living in regional and remote communities. And we know that there is really high-quality digital support that is available. The Black Dog Institute, there's This Way Up, Reach Out,  there is a lot of high-quality digital interventions available. We want to make sure that people have access and are able to navigate the right kind of digital care when they need it, that meets their needs

Presenter: Emma McBride the Assistant Minister for Regional and Rural Health thanks so much for that. Hopefully we see more improvement and more access to all these services in the regions. Thanks so much for your time this morning.

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