Radio interview with Assistant Minister Kearney and Ali Moore, ABC Melbourne Drive - 7 March 2024

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister Kearney's interview on ABC Drive Melbourne on women's health, end gender bias survey, and the aged care sector in Victoria.

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

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ALI MOORE, ABC RADIO MELBOURNE:  And I have another question for you this afternoon. Have you ever been to the doctor and walked away feeling like your complaint has been ignored, that you've been marginalised? If you're a woman, you are in very good company. There's been a survey of some 3,000 women, including health care professionals, and it's found that two out of three women report healthcare-related, what they're calling, bias and discrimination. Ged Kearney is the Federal Assistant Health Minister. Ged Kearney, welcome to the program.

GED KEARNEY, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE: Thanks for having me, Ali.
 
MOORE: What sort of bias and discrimination are we talking about?
 
KEARNEY: Well, women are telling us – and the End Gender Bias survey has just validated what I've been told by lots of women anecdotally since I took on the role of Assistant Minister – that often they present with symptoms like pelvic pain, they present- you know, women suffer with migraines, there's lots of conditions that women suffer with that they might present to the doctor with, but mostly it's around sexual and reproductive health care and chronic pain, that they feel dismissed. They don't feel heard, they get under-medicated, they get told – and I dare I use this word – that they could be hysterical, that they're overdramatising. Or even worse that, well, pain is just a woman's lot. You just have to put up with it.
 
MOORE: Seriously? Even today?
 
KEARNEY: Oh, yes. Yes, yes, yes. Even today. Even today. I've just finished a round table with some women who were telling me their experiences down in Tassie at the moment, and yes, even today, women are feeling that they're not treated properly when they present with pain. So, it really is extraordinary that this is happening in the health system today and I really want to do something about it, particularly for women.
 
MOORE: The other side to this is that, and I don't know whether I'm playing devil's advocate or not, but how much of it is subjective? Because, you know, doctors are incredibly busy. We know that. Appointments are largely 15 minutes unless you've asked for something else. Maybe one person's being discriminated against is another person's just being really busy and efficient?
 
KEARNEY: Well, interesting you should say that because we are getting some research that is coming through right now to show that women do fare less well in a health system where there does seem to be some gender bias. For example, one well-documented statistic is that you are more likely as a woman, and some research says twice as likely, to die of a heart attack if you are a woman. So if you present to an ED there's lots of reasons for this, it's because the health system is designed by men and for men by and large. So all the symptoms of a heart attack are what men feel: pain in their chest, crushing pain, pain down the left arm, pain in their jaw; whereas women who are having a heart attack present with vastly different symptoms. So either the symptoms are missed or they're told they're just being anxious, a little bit out of breath or they're just got a bit of indigestion or something and they're sent home. And so, yes, you're twice as likely, in some research, to show that you will die from a heart attack.
 
There's other research - this is extraordinary - there's other research that shows you’re half as likely to be under-medicated for pain relief. They just don't believe women's level of pain often when they present. So there's research that is starting to come out now that is actually providing evidence behind this.
 
MOORE: I suppose we would imagine, wouldn't we, that it would get better, not worse? Because more and more women are health care professionals. Shouldn't that make a difference?
 
KEARNEY: Well unfortunately, as I said, a lot of the health system historically has been designed by men for men. So a lot of the care, clinical guidelines, a lot of the symptomology that you look for, a lot of those care plans that doctors rely on, even women doctors, are just about men. So we're not yet seeing women's experiences or women's physiology reflected properly in clinical diagnostic flowcharts or in clinical care guidelines.
 
Now, a lot of work is being done on this right now, and I've got to say that the medical profession has responded extremely well to this. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the RACGP, the AMA, they're really working with me on this. I've put together a National Women's Health Advisory Council, the medical colleges and all the researchers and health professionals are represented on that, and they're really embracing this. And I'm hoping that we will see- well, I'm hoping that there will be a lot of change so that women can get good health outcomes.
 
MOORE: I suppose it's- I mean, given that we both said: isn't it extraordinary that people could be- women could be accused of being hysterical in 2024, does it seem to you that it's, to a point, an intractable problem?
 
KEARNEY: I don't think so. Let's take endometriosis as a classic example. I mean, I think there's been a lot of public discourse about endometriosis recently. It's been really highlighted as one of those conditions that women have been told, it's just period pain, just suck it up. Right? We know that one in seven women actually do suffer with endometriosis. It is a crippling, awful disease that takes women out of the workforce. They are sick in bed for many days. They're accused of drug shopping when they do try to get pain relief every month when their period comes.
 
But thank goodness, there has been an awareness around this now. The Federal Government has invested around $58 million to a suite of measures that can support women with endometriosis, including specialised GP clinics right around Australia. So there is hope, and I think there are ways that we can deal with this. Pulling together communities of excellence and really, I'm hoping that my Women's Health Advisory Council will be able to advise us on this. I'm holding a National Women's Health Summit next week, actually, to discuss this very thing. We've got about 150 experts, health professionals, women with lived experience, researchers, all coming together to discuss this. So…
 
MOORE: ... So you can bring change is the clear message. Ged Kearney, can I ask you another question before I let you go?
 
KEARNEY: ...Sure, sure.
 
MOORE: And this is with your other portfolio hat on. Just looking at aged care, we've done quite a bit on this program about the ever increasing number of councils in Victoria that are pulling out of aged care, and it's a direct response to your government's changes to the funding model. And I suppose I should note that those changes have been delayed a couple of times. I think it's still another year or so until everything comes together. But did you foresee that so many councils would walk away?
 
KEARNEY: Well, we're- Ali, can I just say we're absolutely committed to fixing the aged care mess that was left by the previous government? I think everybody is well aware of the results of the Royal Commission. One thing that we do know is that Australians do want to stay home longer. So, we're really working actively to ensure that we can support at-home programs that suit the needs of our older Australians. So it is- knowing that we're really working hard at the moment, I think it is disappointing that some councils are pulling out. I know Minister Wells has said that she'd really rather see the councils engaging with her and with the consultations and the reform process rather than taking the decision to leave now. As you say, we've delayed the changes so that we can continue that consultation and make sure we get the reform right. I think she's actually actively written to all the councils …
 
MOORE: ...But it's too late. I mean, in Victoria, there's only about 20- I think there's 26 out of 79 that retain in-house aged care and even more are likely to leave it, and it leads to massive disruption for those people who were relying on their council.
 
KEARNEY: Yes, I agree, I think it's really disappointing that the councils are pulling out and we have been asking them to reconsider and to consult with us. We're- it is a decision made by these local governments, authorities, and we're not sure why yet because we are still consulting and still wanting to get this right. So, I wish we could change that...
 
MOORE: ...But at the same time, they say it's because of the new funding model. Are you prepared to redraw that funding model, or is there anything concrete that could be done from your end that might make these councils rethink?
 
KEARNEY: Well, I do understand that the Minister is still engaging about those reform consultations with other HSPs, as we call it, providers, the home service providers. So that consultation is ongoing, and we'd really rather them take the decision to continue to consult with us rather than leave the sector.
 
MOORE: Minister, thank you for joining us.
 
KEARNEY: My pleasure.
 
MOORE: That's Ged Kearney there, the Federal Assistant Health Minister. And just- you heard her talking there about councils withdrawing from aged care. I know it's a very fraught issue for many. And I wonder whether or not you have had a difficult experience in the health system. As you heard the Minister say, health system designed largely by men for men.

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