TOM ORITI, HOST: Over the past few years, mental health has really come into the spotlight, of course, as the pandemic forced many of us to isolate and work from home. The Government launched several initiatives to help people get access to specialists and today $1.7 million investment has been announced for what's called The Essential Network or TEN which helps health care professionals find resources and support to navigate things like burnout and maintain their good mental health Emma McBride is the Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. She is also the Assistant Minister for Rural and Regional Health and joins us from our Parliament House studio in Canberra good morning thank you for your time Emma.
EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: Good morning, Tom. Good to be with you.
ORITI: So, $1.7 million for The Essential Network project to extend mental health support for mental health professionals. This is important. We've been covering this a lot on the program. But I feel like we haven't really paid attention to issues like burnout amongst professionals addressing these sorts of issues in the broader community. What Impact do you think this funding will have on them?
MCBRIDE: This is such vital funding Tom, we know that mental health workers are really feeling the effects of the pandemic and they, at the same time continue to have to provide vital healthcare services to our communities. Today I'm announcing that the Albanese Government has invested $1.7 million to extend The Essential Network, a critical partnership, run by the Black Dog Institute. This funding will now extend the project until the 30th of June 2024. How it works is it’s a national blended care mental health support available online and in person and we know to date, more than 86,000 healthcare workers have accessed this really important mental health support.
ORITI: Ok so available until June next year. Did you say June 2024 is that right or June next year?
MCBRIDE: That's right, this is an extension of work that the Black Dog Institute has been doing because we know the pressure for mental health workers. We know the lag of the pandemic, and we know that this service has been accessed by, as I said, more than 86,000 healthcare practitioners to date, and we want to make sure that this is available to them now and over the next 12 months.
ORITI: Given that lag, are you convinced or satisfied that's enough time and investment, $1.7 million, to address issues like severe burn out that mental health professionals have been facing?
MCBRIDE: As someone who was a mental health care worker myself, working in adult acute inpatient units for almost 10 years, I know that there were demands and pressures on mental health care workers, and healthcare workers more broadly before the pandemic. But we know that the pandemic has heightened those impacts, so as a healthcare worker myself I will be advocating for the right kind of funding and support. We know that this work with the Black Dog Institute is working well. We're pleased to support it for another 12 months and we'll be looking at ongoing measures to support the mental health and wellbeing of healthcare workers so they can care for others.
ORITI: Ok, so on that note, let's just look at the broader situation as the Government announced in December that Better Access initiative, which provided 20 free mental health sessions have been reverted back to 10. that was always an extension during the pandemic, the Productivity Commission last week revealed that almost a quarter of people delayed seeing a mental health professional because they can't afford it and cost of living is biting so many people at the moment. What avenues are now available to people as they are priced out of access to mental health care. Are you concerned about that?
MCBRIDE: We, Minister Butler and I, bought together over 80 stakeholders, including people with lived and living experience to Parliament House in Canberra last Monday. The basis of that was looking at the evaluation done or led by Dr Jane Pirkis, the lead investigator, from the University of Melbourne. What that showed us about Better Access was that there was a big problem in equity, that the people who most needed mental health support and care weren't able to even get into the system. That's why we brought people together to discuss the breadth of issues from early or earlier intervention through too complex and chronic ongoing care. We had a very productive conversation and the thing I really wanted to highlight from that Tom, was the voice of lived and living experience. It's something that's been missing from this conversation. We often talk about person-centred care whilst not properly including those people with lived experience.
ORITI: Sure, sorry to interrupt there, just in terms of cutting the number of mental health places, I just want to ask because you know the number of suicides, in Victoria people who died suicide has jumped 9 per cent from last year. Over 750 deaths, the highest number documented since records began 20 years ago. I mean, how will the Federal Government address a number like that if essential services like those subsidised sessions are being cut.
MCBRIDE: Those figures were troubling and I read some of the Coroner John Cain’s comments this morning and also those of a researcher associated with the Black Dog Institute. As you know, the Federal Government has set up the National Suicide Prevention Office headed up by Michael Gardiner. We're working on a National Suicide Prevention Strategy. What we know is that mental health is one driver of suicide but as was commented on by the Black Dog researcher in those reports is that there are many other drivers of suicide, including financial distress, cost of living. These are things that we are taking a whole-of-government approach to do, to look at those drivers of distressed that then lead or are likely to lead to an increase in suicide. It's something that is front of mind for myself, as the Assistant Minister, working very closely with Minister Butler.
ORITI: The National Cabinet meeting on Friday received that report into the ailing state of Medicare, and its future and Minister Butler has made it clear about its ailing state. $750 million taskforce now to deal with the sector and yet I know that the decision was to delay the discussion further until April. I mean, what does that mean for the struggling mental health sector to be left further in limbo? One could argue.
MCBRIDE: We know that the report of the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce, I mean this was a taskforce that was set up by Minister Butler last July that brought together experts, including the AMA, the College of General Practitioners, to look at really what is really the outcome of the consequences of almost a decade of neglect. When I first started working as a pharmacist in the late 1990s Medicare was in much better shape than it is in today. And we know that these types of reform needs to be done in a considered way because this is about putting people at the centre of care and absolutely ensuring quality and safety. There was a number of those measures that I think were largely welcome, including a multi-disciplinary response. We know that in Australia today we have an ageing population and we need different responses to chronic and complex care than we did when Medicare was set up 40 years ago. Minister Butler is working very closely with the States and Territories with the with colleges and the AMA and others to make sure that we have the right response that’s done in a safe and very well thought out way.
ORITI: You know this, as you said, you've been on the frontline of these issues for a long time, but I want to ask given your portfolio as Assistant Minister for Rural and Regional Health we had the New South Wales Regional Health Minister Bronnie Taylor on the program last week and she was pretty annoyed at Minister Butler. She said that she wanted to see this single employer GP model. There was a trial in her neck of the woods in New South Wales, she wanted to see rolled out in New South Wales instead. The Federal Government started to roll it out in Tasmania, have there been any developments in rolling it out in New South Wales and you know having it to be a solution to get more GPs into regional Australia more broadly.
MCBRIDE: Minister Bronnie Taylor as a former nurse and myself as a former pharmacist work very closely in the regional health space. We had a bilateral towards the end of last year in Tamworth where Minister Taylor raised these issues, including some of these more innovative models of care, and the Government announced up to 10 of these trials across Australia and was a very welcome announcement with the Prime Minister and Minister Butler and the Premier in Tasmania almost a fortnight ago. Now workforce shortages and particularly workforce distribution is something that is ongoing and growing problem.
ORITI: Do you understand though why Bronnie Taylor was a bit frustrated that the model that she piloted or she had a role in piloting in her neck of the woods in New South Wales was instead rolled out another state.
MCBRIDE: I know that Minister Taylor from the bilateral that we had, and she raised the Murrumbidgee model in that bilateral. I know it's something that she is keen to support and would like to see other trial sites in New South Wales. I know that there is strong interest across the country and we need to make sure that there is equal access the states and territories, but I'm working really closely with Minister Bronnie Taylor to make sure that New South Wales has its fair share.
ORITI: Is everything on the table, just another issue we've been covering over the past week, maternity and obstetric services in rural areas. We're hearing about concerns, particularly where you know women in labour in central Queensland have been turned away from hospitals. Anything on the table as part of the taskforce or the upcoming Budget to address that
MCBRIDE: I'll be meeting again today with the National Rural Health Commissioner Dr. Ruth Stewart. We are looking at innovative models of care, are looking at multidisciplinary approaches. I note in this situation it was GP obstetricians, so general practitioners who specialise in obstetrics. I know that the rural health commission and others are very keen on the rural generalist where a GP has a specialisation in obstetrics and anaesthetics as well. So these are all things that where we're closely and carefully considering to look at how we might be able to in the short term bridge some of these workforce shortages. But in the longer term have a health workforce pipeline, particularly for those in regional and remote Australia. I worked in regional health most of my working life before coming into this place. These problems existed before the pandemic, they've been exacerbated through the pandemic, and they're going to take time and a very coordinated and collaborative approach to resolve.
ORITI: Just while we've got you there, away for your portfolios if you don't mind, but as a member of the Government, I just ask you a question on the Voice to Parliament, we heard from the Opposition Leader Peter Dutton on the program today. He says he's going to continue to ask for more details from the Government ahead of the referendum. What do you say to him and other Australians who might be questioning how a Voice will work and the powers that it will have.
MCBRIDE: I support a Voice to Parliament, and looking through my the lens of my portfolio with the health disparities that we see with First Nations people. This is about recognition, and this is about consultation and the only way that we're going to be able to bridge the gap in health disparities or across our society is through First Nations people having a proper voice.
ORITI: Ok Emma, thank you very much for joining us, appreciate your time.
MCBRIDE: Thank you Tom good to be with you.
ORITI: Likewise, that is Emma McBride, Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Regional and Rural Health joining us there. Just the number for Lifeline, before we move on. If this story has raised concerns for you or anyone you know 13 11 14