Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care doorstop - 17 May 2024

Read the transcript from Assistant Minister Kearney's doorstop on the federal funding package to help women who’ve experienced miscarriage.

The Hon Ged Kearney MP
Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care

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GED KEARNEY, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE: Well, good morning everybody and thank you for coming. My name is Ged Kearney and I'm the Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care. And I'm here this morning with some simply amazing women who've done an incredibly huge thing by working with me and the Labor Government to, I think, introduce a very significant item in the Budget.
These women came to me and told me about miscarriage. When somebody experiences miscarriage, it's one of the most traumatic events in their lives. And all too often, it happens in silence; it can happen in isolation. It's something we don't talk about, and it's something that I've come to discover is not dealt with very well in our public health system. I'm very lucky to be here at the wonderful Women's Hospital. We are lucky in Victoria to have the Women's Hospital. I have Sue Matthews, who is the CEO. So thank you, Sue, for having us today. I have the amazing, tireless, Isabelle Oderberg, who heads up the Early Pregnancy Loss Coalition who've done a mountain of work. We have a lovely woman here today, Kim, with lived experience who's going to tell her story. I have Sam Payne, who runs the incredible organisation, Pink Elephants, that is a support organisation for women who have experienced early pregnancy loss and miscarriage, and I want to thank you too for your tireless advocacy
Around 110,000 women a year experience miscarriage, but we're not 100 per cent sure of that figure. It is the best estimate that we can do. One of the problems we face with miscarriage is that we simply don't have data, and we don't really understand exactly how pervasive it is. But we do know that so many women do experience this. We're very pleased today to announce that collecting data is one of the things that we are going to start with in today's announcement. If we don't know, we can't act. So we really need that base, that foundational knowledge, that we can get through data so we have allocated a significant amount of funding for that.
But more importantly- just as importantly as that, we know that women are screaming out for support, for help, for education, for knowledge, and the vast majority of today's $9.5 million will be allocated to doing just that. We want to make sure that women who are going through this tragic experience of miscarriage know that they can get help, that they can get some understanding, that there is support there for them.
So, we are very pleased today to announce this funding for miscarriage. It is the first time that there has been dedicated funding for miscarriage in a federal budget, and I'm very proud of that.
I'd like to ask Isabelle; would you like to say a few words?
ISABELLE ODERBERG: Seven is the number of angel babies to which I am a mother. Ten is the number of years it took me to say goodbye to them and have my two living children. Five is the number of minutes it takes between each miscarriage in this country. Zero is the number of years we've been tracking miscarriage numbers in Australia. 100 per cent is the rate among experts that I interviewed who believe miscarriage rate numbers are going up. Four is the number of years it took me to write my book about miscarriage, Hard to Bear. One is the number of months, post-release, when I founded the Early Pregnancy Loss Coalition with Jade Bilardi and Melanie Keep. Fourteen is the number of service providers who make up the EPLC and advocated for this change together. Eighteen is the number of policy advisers who support our coalition, all leaders in their field.
One hundred fifty, give or take, is the number of doctors, scientists, and most importantly, patients that I interviewed for my book, and here is what those patients told me. I don't want to be losing my baby while sitting in a waiting room next to a happily, heavily pregnant woman who's trying to decide on baby names, New South Wales. No one would listen to me when I told them something was wrong, that the miscarriage wasn't finished. We had to call an ambulance to take me to hospital because I developed septicaemia and I stayed there for a month, Victoria. I was so scared. There was so much blood and so much pain. I called the Early Pregnancy Assessment Clinic and the person who answered the phone said: calm down, dear, it's only a miscarriage, New South Wales. I wanted to have surgery to end the pregnancy. I didn't want to walk around with a dead baby inside me. The doctor in the ER said no and when I asked why he told me because he didn't believe in it and I should just go home and wait, Queensland. These stories get much worse when the person sharing their experience is from a marginalised minority, their first language isn't English, or if they represent a lower socioeconomic demographic. But 2024 is the most important number here today. It’s the year that marks the beginning of the end of the dark days when a miscarriage was heavier, harder, and more dangerous than it needed to be.
Every single patient who told me a terrible story are the people we are working for, and these are the people who will be forever grateful to Ged Kearney and her government for the first ever dedicated funding  in a federal budget for miscarriage. This funding sets people up for support who need it now but, most importantly, to create a viable and fit for purpose health policy for the future.
This sends a message and that message is, we are done. This time for women is over. It is time for us to care for birthing parents, for their partners and their families, their children and their friends. There is so much work to be done but we are ready.
KEARNEY: Thank you. We might go to Sam.
SAMANTHA PAYNE: Pink Elephants has, for eight years, been providing frontline support services to women who endure and tell us all of those stories that Isabelle’s just shared with us.
We know that roughly 300 women a day go through this experience. Prior to Pink Elephants, there was no specific support for early pregnancy loss. After my second loss, where I had to make the traumatic decision as to whether to flush my baby down the toilet or to keep the remains and take them to hospital for testing, because I'd been given no guidance on what to do, I took that grief and I got really angry. And with that anger, I decided to do something. I decided to create a circle of support.
Because if one in four pregnancies end in loss, then women deserve better. They deserve validation, empathy and support. And so for years we've been advocating and asking for this support to happen. We're really proud that now we can work with the EPLC and with Assistant Health Minister Ged Kearney.
This funding does so much in providing validation for our community. Your babies matter. They exist. They are real. Your grief is real, and you deserve all of the love and support to help you navigate your bereavement experience.
We can't thank you enough, Assistant Minister Kearney, for this. It is absolutely, to Izzy's point, a highlight. 2024 is the year that we lift the veil. It's the year that people get to see our losses and they can no longer turn away from us and we can change things. I’m so, so grateful to you for that, I really am.
KEARNEY: You’re welcome. Sue?
SUE MATTHEWS: From a health service perspective we're thrilled to hear this announcement. We think that the policy is a wonderful policy. It is something that we have also advocated for and about.
At the women's, we deliver about 7500 babies a year and that's almost a baby an hour. But that those are the live births. You know, we have a number, a number of them that are not. We do the best we can in the context of what we provide, but I think that this policy will help everyone - those of us that are in health services, those of us that are lived experience individuals. And I think it's just a great policy for us from your government, so thank you.
KEARNEY: Thanks so much, Sue. And I think we have time to hear from Kim. Kim, would you like to tell us your story?
KIM: My name is Kim. I experienced five losses ranging from 12 weeks to five weeks. The first one, I started bleeding and presented at a public hospital, to the triage. They just told me nothing could be done. I had to take a seat, if I needed pads there were some in the cupboard.
They said that, because it was night time that I probably wasn't going to get a scan because everyone had gone home from that department. When I finally saw someone after a couple of hours, they were told, yeah, there was nothing I could - they could do and just to go home and try to come back in the morning or go see my GP.
I came back in the morning, they said nothing could be done. I was offered a scan at that time, they said there was no viable pregnancy and just to go home and wait it out. After heavily bleeding for a week or so I then went back to my GP and said, is this normal? Because no one had told me what to expect or what not to expect. It wasn't.
I was then referred to have a D&C, which I undertook. And during that D&C the only thing I remember is the anaesthetist holding my hand and telling me that it wasn't my fault. And that was the first time in that process that anyone had acknowledged what had happened to me and I felt like a human.
The second one was on a public holiday. I presented to an after-hours GP clinic who was open. The GP, again, said there was nothing could be done and to go home and ride it out. So, I lost my baby in a share house toilet.
After three miscarriages, I was referred to the multiple loss clinic. That clinic was located in the maternity ward so I had to sit there to- wondering, to undertake testing while I was looking at heavily pregnant people just, you know.
I felt let down and alone during my time. There was- at no point was I ever offered any counselling. I was also never offered any other option other than just to go home and deal with myself.
After reading Isabelle'S book I realised, you know, that I wasn't alone. But at the same time that made me really angry and also just really upset for other people. I'm happy that now, you know, this is an amazing start and that people will be offered the opportunity to not go through what I went through.
I'd like to thank Izzy and the EPLC and all the other orgs that have contributed to this amazing announcement, and just hope that no one has to go through what I went through.
KEARNEY: Thanks so much. That was wonderful. Well done everybody.



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