Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, Press Conference - 14 March 2024

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister Kearney's press conference on National Women's Health Summit; End Gender Bias survey.

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. Thank you so much for being here. My name is Ged Kearney, I’m the Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, and I have some wonderful women with me today. I have Nicky Bath, who is the CEO of the LGBTIQ+ Health Australia; I have Nisha Khot, who is the Vice President of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, that we know and love as RANZCOG; we have Nyadol Nyuon OAM, and she is Chair of the Harmony Alliance. Very pleased to have Nyadol here today. And last but simply not least in no way is Dr Sarah White, CEO, Jean Hailes for Women’s Health. And we are all here today because we have convened the National Women’s Health Summit, and it has grown out of a series of meetings from the National Women’s Health Advisory Council and just from chance encounters with women who-have told us their stories of gender bias in the health system.
 
Now, the health system is not delivering the best possible health outcomes for women. We launched the End Gender Bias survey, and today we are actually giving some results of that survey. The survey found that two out of three women have experienced gender bias in the health system. Two out of three women. This is unacceptable. If you have an intersectionality, if you are a migrant woman or a woman- or a person from the LGBTIQA+ community, you have an 80 per cent chance of experiencing gender bias in the health system. This today is unacceptable. Parents, women, mothers of children, have told us how they simply aren’t believed when they present with the ones they care for. They are dismissed – women generally have been dismissed, their concerns have not been heard. This has often delayed vital diagnosis. Sometimes this has led to even fatal outcomes for women, but certainly poorer health outcomes.
 
The stories that I’ve heard have been heartbreaking. At worst, they are frustrating for women. Women deserve good health outcomes. How has this come about? Well, the system has been designed over centuries by men and for men. This is just how the system has developed. We are not saying that there are health professionals out there who are biased against women. It is the system that is built primarily for default man, which is pretty much a 50-year-old white male.
 
I’m going to pass on now to my colleagues who are going to give their perspective of today’s National Women’s Health Summit. But what we really want to get out of today are some concrete actions. We know now from the End Gender Bias survey what women are experiencing. We want to hear from the experts, from health professionals, from advocacy groups and people with lived experience about exactly what it is that we need to do to make our health system the best it can be for women. I’m going to hand over to Nisha now.
 
NISHA KHOT, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE ROYAL AUSTRALIAN AND NEW ZEALAND COLLEGE OF OBSTETRICIANS AND GYNAECOLOGISTS: Yes. Thank you very much, Ged, for allowing RANZCOG the opportunity for running this Women’s Health Summit. We are the peak body that trains doctors, specialists in O&G and GPs who provide women’s health services, and we are very proud of providing the training that will change the future of women’s health in this country. The other thing that we also do is advocate for systemic change. As Ged has mentioned, doctors, healthcare professionals, nurses, midwives don’t work in silos. We work within a system, and there are many things we can do within that system, but there are many things that the system needs to do to support women’s health and better outcomes for women. Thank you very much.
 
NICKY BATH, CEO OF LGBTIQ+ HEALTH ALLIANCE: I’m Nicky Bath, CEO of LGBTIQ+ Health Australia. We’re the national peak body for LGBTIQ+ health and wellbeing. It’s an absolute honour to be here today and to have been able to have been with amazing colleagues as we look at the issues at the health summit today. As Assistant Minister Kearney just referenced, the survey has shown that we’re continuing to see increased disparities for LGBTIQ+ women, with that differentiation of discrimination and bias at 67 per cent more broadly for survey respondents and 80 per cent for LGBTIQ+ respondents. These disparities we continue to see across mental health, drug and alcohol use, access to services, repetitive screening. The recently released National Drug Strategy Household Survey continues to show great disparities, particularly amongst LBQ women, in smoking. But we also see disparities across the board for LGBTIQ+ people in these areas. So today provides us with the opportunity to create change, to come forward and work together so that we create change for everyone woman in the health system and these disparities that we’ve continued to experience. Thank you very much.
 
NYADOL NYUON OAM, HARMONY ALLIANCE CHAIR: Thank you everyone, and it’s a great honour to be involved in this program. As Chair of Harmony Alliance, my interest has been trying to raise awareness and concerns that are experienced by migrant women in a health context. I like to think about the issue that we are all trying to address here more as not against anybody but about how inclusive our society can be and that we all benefit in the end as a community. That is the case. We know that at the moment that there are groups of people whose experiences of healthcare are impacted by either being women, being a migrant or having a disability, and that those people not only have their rights to access good healthcare impacted, but their sense of personal dignity. It’s important to be involved in thinking about some of the ways we can improve the healthcare system in order to ensure that all Australians are able to have access to good healthcare.
 
DR SARAH WHITE, CEO, JEAN HAILES FOR WOMEN’S HEALTH: I'm Doctor Sarah White. I’m the CEO of Jean Hailes for Women's Health, and that's the peak women's health body in Australia. I have the privilege of being the Chair of the Empowerment Subcommittee on the National Women’s Health Advisory Council. Certainly what we're seeing in this survey is floating up to the surface, really, is the barriers to empowerment that many women experience in the health system. We know there are social norms, cultural norms, institutional structures that prevent women from being able to have choice when it comes to the health system, to actually have a strong voice in the women’s health system and actually have that power within to advocate for themselves. For this Women's Health Summit, it is a fantastic opportunity to identify some of those problems and then to systematically make meaningful change to improve women's empowerment when it comes to health.
 
KEARNEY: Thanks very much, everybody. Do you have any questions?
 
JOURNALIST: Just on today's outcomes, are you going to have, I guess, like a set of goals, a set of projects to work to? What are the concrete outcomes of today going to be?
 
KEARNEY: This is about well, first of all, bringing everybody together and admitting that there is a problem. It's great to have all of the medical colleges, nursing and midwifery colleges, allied health people here, NGOs, advocacy groups. It's really wonderful that everybody has come together. There is a strong admission that there is a problem. Secondly, this is about helping us identify goals and priorities for the National Women's Health Advisory Council, which is working very hard on four main areas. The areas that we are focusing on are care quality and access, empowerment as Sarah mentioned, safety – is the system safe for all types of women who use the system from all different backgrounds – and research. Is our research that we are doing, is it helping us understand the barriers, access issues, empowerment issues.
 
We're hoping at the end of the day that we will have a clear idea of what the council should put as priorities. We're hoping to learn from people with lived experience and from the experts. And already just in the first session, some very interesting things have been raised that will be new for the council to tackle, like new technology, getting ahead of new technology and dealing with ingrained algorithm bias in the health system, which is something that's very interesting and hasn't really been raised with us before. Already we're getting new things to think about and act on.
 
JOURNALIST: You say there's a few things to think about, do you see space in the upcoming budget to fund new initiatives in this space?
 
KEARNEY: We are hopeful that there will be some initiatives in the budget. I can't speak about those beforehand, but certainly the Albanese Labor Government has made women's health a priority. We have already invested around $58.3 million in endometriosis, a suite of measures for endometriosis and pelvic pain. We are on the way to being one of the first countries in the world to eliminate cervical cancer. The NHMRC has changed its funding rules to make sure that women receive 50 per cent of Investigator Grants funding. We're already seeing some inroads into this space. But yes, there's a lot more to be done.
 
JOURNALIST: Just on women's health being a priority, because- and we've talked about this before, but there was an inquiry last year into reproductive and sexual health care access. The Government's response is now six months overdue. It laid out some pretty clear recommendations. Yourself and Mark Butler both said that that would be potentially a bit of a guide for you to make some changes. When are we going to see the response?
 
KEARNEY: The response will be released very soon. There were a number of recommendations in that inquiry. We have the joy of living in a federation, so a lot of those recommendations involve the states coming on board. We have been negotiating with states. We have been working through each recommendation very carefully, and it will be released very soon.
 
JOURNALIST: What have those negotiations been discussing?
 
KEARNEY: Well, as you know, the states deliver a lot of services – services like abortion services, other sexual and reproductive health services. Whilst the recommendations are very clear about some of those things, we have to make sure the states understand those recommendations. It has been discussed at Health Ministers’ meetings.
 
JOURNALIST: Just on contraception, because we still hear from a lot of people who get IUDs who find the process very painful. They might like their IUD, obviously there's a lot of people who get them inserted who it's fine. But what is being done to either inform patients or reduce that pain so that more people take up LARCs? What's the Federal Government doing there?
 
KEARNEY: Yeah, that was one of the recommendations that we are looking at in the Senate inquiry that we are looking very carefully at. We have been working very closely with the health sector and with people with lived experience in this area, and we are working on some policies around contraception, so I hope to have something for you very soon.
 
JOURNALIST: You say you've been working in this space for quite some time. Were you surprised by the results of this survey?
 
KEARNEY: That's a good question. Whilst I'm not surprised that women do experience discrimination and gender bias in the health system – it's something that I've been hearing about for a long time as a health professional and as the Assistant Minister - I was surprised by the extent to which it is prevalent in the health system. Two out of three women in a survey is a large number. 80 per cent of people from the LGBTIQA+ community. People with disability are facing- 80 per cent of them said they experienced discrimination. I was surprised by the extent, but it has just driven us even to do more to make sure that we really do address this. It's a very important issue that we need to do it for women.
 
JOURNALIST: Out of interest, is Mark Butler attending today?
 
KEARNEY: I think Mark was at the Cabinet meeting in Darwin, so I don't think he's been able to make it back here today. But he's very supportive and he is very much on board with the agenda. Thank you.

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