Radio interview with Assistant Minister McBride and Tom Oriti, Breakfast on ABC News Radio - 21 June

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister McBride's radio interview with Tom Oriti on cheaper medicines; National Disaster Mental Health and Wellbeing Framework.

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

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TOM ORITI, HOST: The Federal, State and Territory Governments are changing the way they respond to the mental health needs of Australians affected by natural disasters. The new National Disaster Mental Health and Wellbeing Framework developed by the Mental Health Commission and the Emergency Management Agency, aims to coordinate the government's and the private sector's support for communities throughout a disaster, and of course, in the months and years afterward as well. Through the Budget, I'll note as well there will also be over $7 million to boost frontline mental health services while this National Framework gets underway. For more on all of this we're joined now by Assistant Minister for Rural and Regional Health, Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Emma McBride, who is with us from our Canberra Studios. Emma good morning. Thank you for your time.

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

ORITI: This Framework, it's the work in the wake of the 2019-2020 Black Summer Bushfires. There have of course been several severe floods around the country since then, so tell us more about it. Who and what does this Framework coordinate?

MCBRIDE : This Framework is absolutely critical. We know that people's mental health and wellbeing following disasters is dependent on a collaborative and well coordinated action by all recovery partners, that's governments, NGOs, civil society. We know that throughout Australia, we're seeing more severe and more frequent disasters, including natural disasters. Over 350 councils have been impacted by severe floods just in the last 12 months. So this is a coordinated approach, working with all levels of government across NGOs and Emergency Service Providers to make sure that all Australians get the right mental health care and support when they need it, following national disasters.

ORITI: In terms of what actually changes under this new Framework, was there not that coordination before?

MCBRIDE: This is what this Framework really aims to pull together in a very consistent and coordinated way to make sure that there is national guidance for how to effectively provide that mental health care and support. What is absolutely critical from a federal level, is to see that level of coordination, so that this happens reliably and consistently, and that wherever that national disaster occurs the right kind of care and support will be coordinated immediately. And the right sort of follow up will be in place because we know the longer term impact of natural disasters on people's mental health and well being, there can be a significant lag and a long tail while these sorts of symptoms can emerge in communities.

ORITI: So you're saying that there's that need for broader coordination between all the different stakeholders, I hate that word, stakeholders involved in this process, but who's responsible for that coordination though, is the responsibility shifting from one place to another under this?

MCBRIDE: This is what is absolutely critical, is defining those roles and responsibilities. Depending on the nature of the disaster and where it occurs, it might be, for example, with the absolutely tragic bus crash that we saw in Greta. In that situation, it was the Local Police Area Command and the Local Health District that stood up and there was also a service coordination centre, where other resources could then be coordinated through and then be deployed to the community. So depending on the nature of the disaster, the severity, who's impacted by it, or who is the lead agency and who's best to coordinate it and that's why this document is so important. Because we need to make sure this happens consistently and reliably.

ORITI: I'm just trying to get my head around why it's important. What were the problems before this Framework came out? What were the issues that needed to be addressed? What was going wrong?

MCBRIDE: Well in some communities, and I've had the chance in this role to visit many communities around Australia, although there was goodwill, and it was well intentioned. There wasn't that level of coordination, which meant that there could be gaps in services where people missed out. They weren't then able to be linked in with the right type of service at the right time. We want to make sure, and this started as you mentioned back following the Black Summer Bushfires, we want to make sure that whatever the nature of the disaster and whoever is impacted by it, that the right services will be stood up, that people can then access those services in a timely way. Particularly those first responders who we know are most impacted by these disasters.

ORITI: On that note, as you say, on the ground in the wake of a disaster. Many of the volunteers are from local community groups. They're part of the community. We saw that with the Greta bus crash recently, as you say, everyday people stepping away from their jobs to support the community. When we look at this Framework, I mean, this is also a document that's coming out of Canberra, right? I mean, how is it practically implemented? How do those people on the ground know what they have to say or do under this Framework? How do you communicate it to the people who are there on the ground?

MCBRIDE: Communication as we know, in all disaster responses is absolutely vital to make sure it well coordinated that it happens efficiently. Part of the guiding principles of this Framework are to strengthen local community's capabilities to establish regular communication, to ensure that there are flexible responses and when this has just been developed by the National Mental Health Commission in conjunction with the National Emergency Management Agency. However, it has been done in strong collaboration with the states and territories, with local governments, and with service providers to make sure that everybody is very clear on what their roles and responsibilities are. Because we know that is one of the most vital parts of responding to national disasters.

ORITI: Until this Framework settles in, which I imagine could take some time potentially years. There's a $7 million funding boost towards urgent services. I mentioned that in the introduction part of the recent budget. Can you tell us more about that? Where does that go?

MCBRIDE: So this investment goes to two organisations to the Black Dog Institute and also to the Australian Psychological Society. The part with Black Dog Institute is for National Emergency Worker Support Service. What this means is that a first responder, whether they're active or retired, whether they're a firefighter or a paramedic, can confidentially access information online, where they're able to do a self assessment, and then depending on their level of need or distress, they can have telehealth services or face to face services with a psychologist. We know that the prevalence of PTSD in first responders is 39%. It's twice the rate of the general population. But what we have seen with this work with the Black Dog Institute, is that first responders are recovering from PTSD, which is critical to their health and well being. It's absolutely vital to our emergency services, and reduces the burden on our healthcare system. So I'm very pleased that we've been able to expand this service, which was originally designed for firefighters. Now to all emergency service workers across Australia. The other part is the Disaster Response Network, which is a National Volunteer Network of trained psychologists and through the APS. What they do is that really sort of early detection, they proactively reach out to individuals who are first responders in impacted communities, to make sure that they're doing okay, they do these independent wellbeing checks with first responders and frontline workers. According to that, it's a really an a fantastic early warning system. So organisations and first responders can identify any areas of stress, and then be triaged through to the right kind of support and care and this is exactly the sort of services that we want to be able to support.

ORITI: Okay, well, while we've got you there, given your portfolio, particularly in Rural and Regional Health. This week, the Pharmacy Guild released a report in which it says new rules around dispensing medicines. It's claimed it would lead to 20,000 job losses and the closure of 665 pharmacies. Can I just ask you about that? While we've got you there. What do you make of that claim?

MCBRIDE: What our government has done is what the former government didn't do, and that's to make medicines cheaper for nearly 6 million Australians. We know, with the cost of living crisis, that so many Australians are feeling that the cost of medicines is a big burden. So, this 60 day dispensing, which was the advice of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, the peak committee, the advice was given to the former government, which they didn't take up, which was given to the incoming government which Minister Butler has taken up, will mean more affordable medicines for 6 million Australians. At the same time, Minister Butler has said, any savings from this measure will be directly reinvested into community pharmacy, we want to make sure that community pharmacies are thriving.

ORITI: Sorry to interrupt there but they're saying okay, it's all good and fine to say we're giving you 60 days but we don't have the supply and we're going to shut down.

MCBRIDE: What we know is that the government is absolutely determined to work with community pharmacies to make sure that they are viable, and to make sure that pharmacies can do more. Pharmacists are immunisers, pharmacists are diabetes educators, with a shortage of healthcare workers around Australia, we need every healthcare worker working to the top of their full scope of practice. This is our intention that this $1.2 billion in savings will be reinvested directly into community pharmacy, in targeted programs. We've also doubled the allowance for rural and regional pharmacies to support them during the transition.

ORITI: Okay, we're out of time. But Emma, thank you very much for joining us, appreciate it.

MCBRIDE: Thanks, Tom.

ORITI: Emma McBride is the Assistant Minister for Rural and Regional Health, Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, joining me there from our Canberra studios.

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