Assistant Minister Kearney press conference, Canberra - 9 November 2022

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister Kearney's press conference, joined by Shadow Minister for Health Anne Ruston, on endometriosis and pelvic pain clinics, IUD insertion, and the Medibank data breach.

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

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ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, GED KEARNEY: Good morning everybody. My name is Ged Kearney, I'm the Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care. And as you can see today, we have a very popular announcement, with record numbers of women in parliament, you can see that we make great policies that affects women.

I want to thank all my parliamentary colleagues for being here today - I would try to name them all but there's far too many, I'd be bound to miss someone. Because today, we are finally on the hunt for clinics that will provide specific services to women with endometriosis and I'm pleased to say the broader issue of pelvic pain.

As you would know, endometriosis affects one in nine women in Australia. And their diagnosis often is very long, takes far too long, is painful, because I'm sorry to say that all too often, women with pelvic pain are ignored. They're told to just live with it, it's just part of being a woman, when actually there are very serious issues that can be treated and we could do so much more for women with pelvic pain and endometriosis.

So we have launched today the process to find 16 specific clinics right around Australia, who will provide very special services to women with pelvic pain, who may well have endometriosis. And if they do, they will be able to refer them on to specific services.

We think that this will revolutionise care for women with endometriosis and we are really excited about it. In the hunt for the clinics, we will be taking into consideration things like geographical location - we know that women in rural and regional areas particularly have a great deal of trouble accessing services like this. We will make sure that clinics are able to scale up and provide care for extra patients coming from outside their area.

We'll make sure that they have an absolute commitment to upskilling their staff and providing special services around the area of endometriosis and pelvic pain. We'll make sure that they are prepared to be culturally appropriate. So there'll be a range of things that we will be looking at in this tender process for clinics to provide the service.

Also, from November 1st we are very pleased to say that women who are having difficulty conceiving will be able to, on the MBS, get an MRI. This will also be life changing for a lot of women who have tried to conceive for many, many years and have not been able to do so. It will also of course help diagnose those conditions, which we know are a barrier to fertility like endometriosis and other conditions.

This is a big commitment from the government. But this just didn't happen overnight. I'm very pleased to say that this is a multi-partisan approach to this. We know that this process started with the previous government, and I'm very pleased to have the Shadow Minister Anne Ruston with us today. Because all parties are absolutely committed to making sure that women's health is front and centre of our health agenda.

When you have record numbers of women in parliament, we know that good decisions are made for women. And this is just the beginning of a, hopefully, whole Parliament approach to making sure that women's health is revolutionised and raised with respect to priorities in our health system.

There are many barriers for women, and often outcomes are poorer for women in our health system. I'd like to hand over to Anne, who I'm sure would like to say a few words. And then we have some wonderful women with lived experience and Maree Davonport, who is a Director of Endometriosis Australia.

And I just like to give a great big call out to all the women out there who drove this, who supported this policy and who absolutely have worked tirelessly to make it happen, like the people at Endometriosis Australia.

SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH, ANNE RUSTON: Thank you very much, Ged. Thank you to all my colleagues that are here today. It's a really important announcement and first of all, can I just give a huge shout out to all the people that have been on this journey for such a long time. This has been a bipartisan approach through the previous government.

I want to acknowledge Gai Brodtmann and Nicole Flint who absolutely spearheaded the push through this parliament to get the $58 million that was announced in the March budget, going towards some initiative that would support women with endometriosis. Absolutely delighted to be here today where two of those measures are being announced, both $16 million for the pain clinics for under $25 million starting with MRI for pelvic scanning.

And to thank Ged for acknowledging the fact that this has been a bipartisan journey, this was first announced by the Coalition Government in the in the March budget. But as Ged rightly points out, the health of Australian women, like the health of all Australians, is something that should be above politics. And I'm really delighted that so many of my colleagues and interested parties, whether it be The Greens, the Labor Party, or the crossbench, who are here today to actually celebrate this milestone, this breakthrough, so that women who suffer from endometriosis and pelvic pain in Australia will now have access to some of the supports that they have so long been lacking at this point.

But it has been an extraordinary journey and I'd like to acknowledge in the Endometriosis Australia, they never gave up, right the way through all the challenges of budget pressures, they never gave up.

And today, I think a huge amount of credit goes to Endometriosis Australia, and the really great women that came forward and told their stories, many of them are here today, which have put the pressure on to make sure that we were able to provide the funding. I won't give up. I know there are many more things that we need to be doing to support women with endometriosis, and many more things that we need to do to be supporting women's health.

But I will remain a very loud advocate for that. I'd like to see the other measures that are included in the $58 million in the March budget. Also going forward, I do acknowledge today that the new government has moved forward on two very, very important and very significant initiatives that were announced to support women with endometriosis. And so I congratulate the government, we will continue to offer the bipartisan support to the women of Australia to make sure that we continue to support with those outcomes for you. And so thank you very much.

CAITLIN TOUGH: I'm Caitlin Tough, I am nearly 30 years old and I've had symptoms of endometriosis since I was 11. In those early days, no one could really dig into what was going on, other than I had extreme pelvic pain that was always worse around the period. I had one GP at age 12 tell me that my pain was just because I was tall and skinny and so my bowels didn't have enough space, and so gas would get trapped in there. So that was her reason for why am I was in pain, so the thought of GPs with actual specialist training and understanding of pelvic pain would have been life changing as a 12 year old.

At 14 I finally found a gynaecologist who helped and put me on the pill and so my GP tried for a mixture of time tried the pill, implanon, different hormonal tablets, trying to get an answer before being diagnosed with endometriosis.

Finally, at 24 having surgery and being diagnosed with endometriosis, which, although in terms of diagnosis, and there's no cure for the disease and it affects 1 in 9 Australian women, it was a weight off my shoulders knowing why I had the pelvic pain. And it made it easier to understand what to do about it and helped me work out tricks.

I've been lucky enough now that I've got a two year old son. And I plan on exploring other options of pain, but just the thought of GPs knowing what to do, where to refer - things like pelvic physio, when I was a teenager, I'd never even heard of it. And now in my 20s, I've been able to find and explore. So just this is a wonderful announcement and thank you to the Government and the former government for making this happen. It's going to change the lives of so many women.

DIRECTOR ENDOMETRIOSIS AUSTRALIA, MAREE DAVENPORT: Thank you and on behalf of Endometriosis Australia, I'd like to thank the Minister and the Shadow Minister, both governments but also to acknowledge all of the women here today, having more women in Parliament, and I was elected myself, the youngest woman elected and first having a baby in parliament in 1996 and it was very different back then. And that daughter I had is the endometriosis sufferer. So she's had symptoms since she was 10 years old. Similar story to Caitlin, terrible to try and get a diagnosis, tripping around to doctors and specialists with a little girl being told up it's probably appendicitis.

Well, I'm sorry, the symptoms don't suggest that to me. And despite my knowledge of the health system and my access to private health, I had enormous difficulty in getting my little girl the help that she needed. And that's why I'm involved with Endometriosis Australia.

I'd like to also acknowledge Gai Brodtmann, the former MP to Canberra. She raised her 92nd statement in this place and had 90,000 hits on social media that day within 24 hours. And so began her journey with the organisation and Donna Chichia who founded Endometriosis Australia after her own journey and frustration 10 years ago. So we commend the government and the previous government for their $58 million package in total.

The MRIs, the diagnosis, as you say, with infertility will make an enormous difference.

My daughter's just had our grandson at 25, because she too has adenomyosis, and was at risk of losing her uterus, but she did get pregnant and have a baby too. And it was not an easy journey at all, to getting pregnant, remaining pregnant and adenomyosis, you've got additional risks of pregnancy loss, but it impacts about 1/3 of women who are suffering from infertility as well. So the MRI, Medicare rebate would go an enormous way, and the GP clinics and the pain clinics will change women's lives.

So I would like to call on behalf of Endometriosis Australia for all GPs out there to consider putting yourselves forward for this package. And I have a view that you know, you give money and they will come. But we really need specialists, particularly in rural and regional areas to ensure that these women have access to diagnosis and treatment. And a lot of that is allied health as well. It may be herbs, and yoga, and acupuncture. So there's all of that to be considered as well as actually helped to treat the symptoms that are lifelong, often past menopause as well. But there is almost enormous, always enormous need in the CALD community, to even acknowledge that this is a problem and for women to be able to speak out within their own community and get the advice that they need in their own languages to access this assistance.

And for those transgender women or transgender people who were born women, we also need to acknowledge that they continue to suffer from this disease as well. So I would like to very much thank the government, the previous governments and all the women here, and may we have many, many more women in parliament in the years to come for their commitment to women in Australia. So this affects about 830,000 Australians. That's a lot of voters. Thank you very much.

JOURNALIST: Is the government considering pain relief for IUD insertion?

ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE: Yes, we are looking at all of the barriers that women face, particularly accessing long acting reversible contraceptives, like IUDs. And we're trying to get to the bottom of that - pain is certainly one that I'm hearing loud and clear. And it's anything that we know from this issue that we've raised today, too often women's experiences of pain are absolutely, well, not ignored, exactly, sometimes ignored, but dismissed and something that I really want to get to the bottom of. But there's a lot of other barriers right now to women accessing LARCs, that's one of them. Certainly, the number of doctors and general practitioners that actually kind of do it, people in rural and regional areas simply don't have access to clinics that are available. So, who knows, maybe with this pelvic pain clinic, this is something that we can actually expand on and have these clinics actually deliver very speciality care. So yes, it's something that we are very much looking at.

JOURNALIST: I just wonder on Medibank if I can, is it time for heads to roll on this, how come no one's taken responsibility?

ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE: I think for Medibank issue is a huge concern. And I know Claire O'Neill the Minister responsible is really very serious about this. There's legislation before Parliament at the moment to increase penalties and to give the Commissioner, you know, a lot more teeth when this sort of thing happens. So this is something we need to definitely do.

JOURNALIST: Do you think Medibank should put pause on customers paying them fees until things are sorted out?

ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE: I'm going to leave decisions like that up to the relevant minister. I know that she's definitely looking at this. I know there is legislation before Parliament right now. And it's something that needs to be dealt with, because it's a big issue right across the board, not just for Medibank but for people's privacy generally when they get details to companies.

JOURNALIST: I mean, speaking of the Minister, the Minister seems to have gone to ground on this, I mean where is she?

ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE: The minister is working very hard on this. I can absolutely guarantee that, as I said there is legislation before Parliament right now that is dealing with this very issue.

JOURNALIST: And do you think that the government is going easy on Medibank because Labor Premier Anna Bligh is on the board?

ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE: I don't think anyone's going easy on anyone. I think this is a very serious issue not only with Medibank, we saw it with Optus. People's privacy of their actual personal information is serious no matter who the company is or who's dealing with it.

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