Radio interview with Assistant Minister Kearney on ABC Radio Perth - 7 March 2024

Read the transcript from Assistant Minister Kearney's interview on women's health and the end gender bias survey.

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

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JO TRILLNG, ABC RADIO PERTH: Have you ever gone to the doctor and walked away feeling like your complaint wasn't really listened to properly? You were ignored, marginalised? Well, if you are a woman, you are in good company. In a survey of 3000 women, including healthcare professionals, two out of three women reported health care related bias and discrimination. And if you're a bloke listening, don't switch off. Women's health impacts us all. I'm sure you've got a wife or a partner, or a daughter or a sister, or you work with women. Ged Kearney is the Federal Assistant Health Minister. Welcome to drive.
TRILLING: What sort of bias and discrimination are we talking about here?
KEARNEY: Well, it's interesting because the very minute I became Assistant Minister for Health, women started to tell me their stories. That they were having their pain dismissed at the doctor. They were being told to just suck it up, it's just a woman's lot. You know, you have periods, you're going to have lots of pain. They weren't getting proper diagnosis. And as you said in your interview, they were told that they were just a little anxious, to go home and get some rest. Or worse, that they were being hysterical or drama queens.
I decided to have a bit of a, you know, a look about this. I'm a nurse. I spent most of my working life as a nurse, and it all suddenly started to gel that I did actually see this in my professional life as well. And I got to say, I hate to say it, but I've experienced it myself. So, we started to have a look and there's lots of research now that shows this is true, that women have worse health outcomes in the system. And a lot of it is really based- it's just entrenched in the historical way that the health system has been designed and built, traditionally ...
TRILLING: ...By men, for men.
KEARNEY: By men, for men, that's right. In fact, someone told me once that I think is quite true that the health system is built for a 50-year old white man from Pennsylvania. And that's pretty much how women experience it, so it's time we did something about it.
TRILLING: I'd love you to tell me about what a 70-year old lady told you. She came up to you.
KEARNEY: She did. I was out in the evening with my partner and she recognised me. And she came up to me and she said, look, I know you're working on this, can I tell you my story? And she was a 70-year old woman who presented to her GP, who was a younger man than her, and said that she was having extreme abdominal pain during sexual intercourse. And the young doctor looked at her and said, well, you're 70. Of course sex is going to be uncomfortable. You know- what are you thinking having sex at 70? And she said that she felt so diminished and so humiliated by that that she just got up and left without any treatment at all. And three days later, unfortunately, she ended up in hospital with a ruptured appendix.
TRILLING: Talk about being dismissed.
KEARNEY: Yes. And look, I tell you, I'm nearly 61 and I would be absolutely mortified if anybody said anything like that to me.
TRILLING: And you end up with these terrible health outcomes or worse, health outcomes.
KEARNEY: Shocking health outcomes. You know, there's lots of research to show now that women's health outcomes are worse. For example, there's one study that shows you're twice as likely to die of a heart attack than a man simply because all of the clinical signs that are written down in the textbooks describe a man's experience of heart attack - you know, crushing chest pain, in the left arm, pain in the jaw. But a woman experiences a heart attack much differently. She might have vague pain right across her chest, be short of breath, be anxious.
And of course, a lot of doctors or ED will look at her and say, oh, you're having a panic attack or, you know you're just a bit anxious or you're fine. But you're twice as likely to die. Now that's terrible. That's one area that is actually being picked up now by the health profession and we do know a lot more about women now and how they experience heart attack. But that's only very recently, I have to say. So data like that is quite alarming.
TRILLING: Yeah. And you make me think of a conversation I had with a friend recently who was talking about accessing a hormonal replacement therapy, and she said she goes into the chemist and it's just not there. And she's like, well if this was a- she actually talked about a little blue pill and she said, is that never, not at the chemist? Is that ever unavailable? But HRT, can't find it
KEARNEY: Yep. Look, and you really have to wonder about these things, you're quite right. Where are our priorities? Where is industry's priorities? Where is the health system's priorities when it comes to women's health? So we are trying to change that and I've got a women's health advisory council set up now. We're looking into this quite seriously. I'm having a women's health summit next week where the best people in the country are coming together to talk about this - women with lived experience.
And we're also starting to see some change, though, like in the area of endometriosis where it took some- on average, nine years to get a diagnosis. And women from the time they first start their periods are in excruciating pain, like, this is debilitating disease, it's awful. People, women have fertility issues. It's long reaching problems. For nine years they were told, oh, it's just woman's problems, you just have to put up with it. But now, I'm proud to say that this government has invested $58 million into a suite of measures to support women with endometriosis, and there's a lot more awareness. So things are starting to change.
TRILLING: Already on the text line people talking about endometriosis…
TRILLING: …and a 62-year old lady has just called in to say she has suffered a lot of contempt when she's seen her doctor. I am speaking to Ged Kearney, who is the Assistant Federal Health Minister. And just back to the summit .I mean, a lot of people respond to that with, another talk fest. But we do need to talk about women's health, don't we, to then get the funding to put into research and science to end up with better outcomes?
KEARNEY: Correct. I mean, a huge part of this is raising awareness, not only in the general community, but in the medical professions themselves and in the health professions. So we have the AMA, the RACGP, the College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists - they are all coming along. I want them to hear women's stories about why the health system is letting them down. And I've got to say, the doctors have been very supportive. Those colleges are starting to understand and we are starting to see some changes, like advancements in endometriosis.
Hopefully, women aren't being accused or will stop soon being accused of drug shopping every month when they come looking for pain relief and being told they're drama Queensland just faking pain for drugs and things like that. So, the medical profession is coming along. And that's why these summits are important, because we do start to talk about it. And the only way we're going to change is if we make them aware the change is necessary. So this is the first step. I haven't changed it overnight as the famous saying says, but we are really working on this and it's- we've already started to see some change.
TRILLING: Someone on the text lines saying, do you know what percentage of GPs are men or women?
KEARNEY: That is a very good question. I don't know exactly but my gut feeling is that it's up around 50 per cent - it may be even more women. But the problem is- and we do find that a lot of women are much more empathetic and sympathetic and they do spend a lot more time with their patients trying to get to the bottom of this. Incidentally, you'll be interested to know it means there's a gender pay gap for general practitioners. Women GPs get paid less because they spend more time with their patients. But I think the problem is that the diagnostics and the systems are still the old fashioned ones. They're still looking at these diagnostic tools and it's not helping them say, well, this is a woman. Something might be different here, and I need to spend a bit more time examining it. They're the things we have to change.
TRILLING: Thank you so much for your time.
KEARNEY: My pleasure. Thank you. You're an important part of raising awareness, so thanks.
TRILLING: That was Ged Kearney, she is the Assistant Federal Health Minister.


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