Radio interview with Assistant Minister Kearney and Thomas Oriti, ABC News Breakfast - 14 March 2024

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister Kearney's radio interview with Thomas Oriti on the National Women's Health Summit; End Gender Bias survey; rock collapse in Ballarat mine

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

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THOMAS ORITI, ABC RADIO MELBOURNE: A major government survey’s revealed widespread gender bias in the health system, with two thirds of women surveyed reporting gender bias or discrimination. The report surveyed more than 2500 female patients. It will be launched today at the National Women's Health Summit. It's the first since the National Women's Health Advisory Council was formed in late 2022 to address medical misogyny. Its chair is the Federal Assistant Minister for Health, Ged Kearney, who joins us now. Good morning. Thank you for your time.
 
GED KEARNEY, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE: My pleasure, Thomas.
 
ORITI: Do you mind me asking you before we get into this story? We have just had this news and it's come from the union at this stage. I just keep saying we have not had confirmation from police itself, but from the union about a man dying in a rock collapse at a Ballarat mine. I just want to ask you, because you're a Victorian, you're a former union leader as well. This must be a challenging morning.
 
KEARNEY:    Very challenging. And my heart goes out to all the families, to all the workers, to the people of Ballarat. This is really a tragedy. I'm glad the union's involved. I know that occupational health and safety is the number one issue for the union movement, for sure, and making sure workers are safe at work. I'm sure there'll be the appropriate investigations and follow ups to see what happened, what went wrong? Could it have been avoided? What are we going to change from now on to make that worksite safe? So really, it's a very challenging, awful situation for everyone. And my deepest condolences to the family of the man who's died.
 
ORITI: Yeah. Thank you. Look, I won't touch on it too much more. Just given that this has just broken and there's a lot we don't know. And I'm hesitant to know ...
 
KEARNEY:…No.
 
ORITI: ... we haven't actually had a sort of an update from the police yet about that. This news just coming in ...
 
KEARNEY: …Yes.
 
ORITI: ... so just keen to hear your thoughts on that from what we do know at the moment. But look let's ...
 
KEARNEY: …It's a tragedy.
 
ORITI: Indeed. Uh, let's look at this survey though. Tell us more. What did it look at and what did it find?
 
KEARNEY: Well, from the time I became Assistant Minister for Health, Thomas, women have spoken to me about their experiences of the health system and how it wasn't meeting their needs. You know, I've since discovered there's a lot of research supporting this out there that women do not fare as well from the health system as men. They often have their pain dismissed, so diagnoses missed. They're told to, you know, suck things up just because they're a woman. You have periods, you know, that's life for a woman, it's going to be painful, which we know isn't true. There's lots of other research we know that women present with different symptoms for common disorders like heart attacks, autoimmune diseases, ADHD, autism, things like that have been- so diagnoses have been missed sometimes with really dire consequences.
 
So, you know, this growing body of evidence shows there's systemic issues. And I wanted to hear from women themselves. So we set about asking them to tell us their stories through the end gender bias survey, and we had nearly 3000 responses from women all across the country different languages, rural, regional, people with disabilities, all sorts of intersectionalities. And they were so eager to tell their stories. And we found that two out of three women have experienced discrimination or bias in the health system. And this is really unacceptable. If you're a woman with a- with a disability, then 80 per cent of women face disability. If you're from the LGBTQIA+ community, 80 per cent of survey respondents reported discrimination. So you know, this is unacceptable.
 
ORITI: It's big numbers. I mean, as you said, you were aware that gender bias existed. Obviously, this council was set up to look into that issue. But were you surprised by just how widespread it is?
 
KEARNEY: I was genuinely surprised at the level of bias that women have experienced.
You know, anecdotally, there's lots of stories that I've been getting from ...
 
ORITI: …Can I ask you- sorry to interrupt. But yeah ...
 
KEARNEY: …Yeah.
 
ORITI: ... just when we talk about gender bias, can you tell us about those anecdotes? Can you give us some examples? When we talk about this, what could that involve? Give us some examples that might have been particularly concerning to you.
 
KEARNEY:     Well, it goes from broad ranging concerns of young women with endometriosis where it takes nine years to get a diagnosis, you know, nine years because their pain comes at time of menstruation, at period time. They're accused- and they need pain relief. This is an excruciatingly painful condition.
 
ORITI: Yeah.
 
KEARNEY:  They're accused of drug shopping. They're accused of faking it. They're accused of, you know, told to just put up with it. We- so there's that. That's one example. Another example I think I've told before is that a 70-year-old woman once came to me and said she presented to her GP with abdominal pain when she had sex. And the GP said to her, well, pretty much, why are you still having sex at 70? Of course it's going to be painful.
 
ORITI: Can see where that was going, yeah.
 
KEARNEY:    Yeah, she was humiliated upset, really ashamed. And three days later, she had to have her appendix out. She presented with an erupted appendix. So these are the sorts of experiences that women have. That one is extreme. You know, the one with endometriosis is much more common. We know nearly 1 in 7 women in Australia have endometriosis. Women with heart attacks present differently to men. But the whole system is designed to represent- a lot of it, you know, we say default man, a 50 year old white man from Pennsylvania, and a heart attack is a classic example. How men present is quite different. But all- we're all taught- I was a health professional. We're all taught the classic signs of a heart attack are those that men experience, not what women experience.
 
ORITI: Yeah. Important to note that there are differences there and important to be aware of- as you say, these very dehumanising experiences of gender bias in the health system -endometriosis being a big one as well. Now, this comes, Ged Kearney, as the government considers how to deliver on the National Women's Health Strategy. When can we expect that?
 
KEARNEY: Well, the Minister for Women, Katy Gallagher, launched the National Gender Equality Strategy at the Press Club. And I was very pleased to see that healthcare for women was a part of that, a big part of that. You know, she announced paid parental leave, that we would pay superannuation on paid parental leave, which is a great announcement for women. But I'm, of course, focusing today on the health system, which is a big part of that strategy. So we will be looking at things like, you know, what are the barriers for women? What training and awareness do we need amongst our workforce? What do our national standards look like? We have a senate inquiry underway about menopause. We had one into sexual and reproductive health care. So this discussion today will inform how we can fix the system and make sure women get the care they need.
 
ORITI: Yeah. And forgive me when I mentioned the strategy, I know that we saw it from the Minister, but in terms of- you know, the time frame for delivering on that was- forgive me for my ambiguity with the question. But on that note, though, with the senate inquiry into reproductive health, is it my- that's six months overdue, the government's response to that. Is that right? Are we expecting an imminent response to that senate inquiry?
 
KEARNEY: Look, I think we can expect a response very soon. There were 36 recommendations from that inquiry. A lot of them- as you would know, Thomas, the health system is delivered by the states, a lot of it, you know, the Commonwealth is responsible for primary healthcare. There was a lot to work through with that, talking with the states, talking with the different stakeholders. And I really want to get it right. So we will be releasing that very soon. But today's discussions will help us with that.
 
ORITI: And hundreds of experts there in Canberra today for the summit.
 
KEARNEY: There are.
 
ORITI: What’s it- I was going to say, what's it going to focus on? It sounds like it's focusing on a lot of things by the sounds of it.
 
KEARNEY: Well, we will be using the gender bias survey to set the scene today. And I have the National Women's Health Advisory Council, which I established over a year ago. So council members will be there today to listen to the deliberations and the discussion. We have the Royal- the RACGP, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, obstetricians, gynaecologists, nursing, allied health professionals, people with lived experience. So I'm hoping from this that I will get a clear idea of priorities, and the discussions today will inform the council about how we can actually start doing really practical, on the ground things to help women. There's already been a lot done already. We've set up, you know, $58.3 million has been put into a suite of measures for endometriosis and pelvic pain. Australia is well on track to eliminate- one of the first countries in the world to eliminate cervical cancer. We're redesigning the way that our research system works so that women researchers aren't disadvantaged. We've been doing a lot. We have looked into the barriers for women to access medical terminations and made some changes there to make access better. The TGA were really great in recommendations and changes there. So there's a lot that's been happening, but I think there's a lot more that needs to happen, and today will set us on the right path.
 
ORITI: Okay. Ged Kearney, Thank you very much for joining us. I appreciate your time.
 
KEARNEY:    My pleasure, thanks Tom.
 
ORITI: Thanks a lot. Ged Kearney there is the Federal Assistant Minister for Health.

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