Television interview with Assistant Minister Kearney on ABC News - 15 February 2024

Read the transcript from Assistant Minister Kearney's interview on online health services and voluntary assisted dying laws.

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

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GREG JENNETT, ABC NEWS: Now, there aren't many people around the Parliament who aren't offering best wishes to Anthony Albanese, the Prime Minister, and his partner Jodie Haydon after their engagement. Love, after all, crosses all political divides. Joy in the occasion is also shared by the Assistant Health Minister, Ged Kearney. We spoke to her starting out on the prime ministerial engagement.
Ged Kearney, welcome back to Afternoon Briefing. It's nice to have you with us here in the studio.
JENNETT: I'm going to get to things in the health portfolio very, very quickly, I promise, but can't go past the fact that the Prime Minister and Jodie Haydon have announced their engagement. As far as we know, the first prime ministerial engagement slash wedding in office that we've ever had in this country. Makes it a pretty special day.
KEARNEY: Oh, it really does. And who knew the Prime Minister was such a romantic, doing it on Valentine's Day? It's a great announcement. We're all so happy for them. They're a gorgeous couple and we look forward to the wedding.
JENNETT: Yeah, I wonder when that will be because-
KEARNEY: [Interrupts] I don't know. I can't make an announcement here because I just don't know.
JENNETT: Leave that with us. We'll take that up with others who might.
KEARNEY: My congratulations to them both.
JENNETT: Thanks for that. Now, why don't we move on to work at hand for you? A new consultant’s report out seeks to promote and quantify the benefits of investment into online health services, I think using public money out of the Medical Research Future Fund. What are the economic spin-offs that's come from that investment?

KEARNEY: Well, L.E.K. Consulting did a very thorough analysis of some MRFF funding that was allocated to ANDHealth. Now, this is an accelerator body. So they help start-ups who have innovative treatments or diagnostics or anything to do in the health sector really that we think can help advance technologies used in the health system. MRFF awarded about $20 million to ANDHealth, and the L.E.K. Consulting report is amazing, Greg. It shows great outcomes. So what it did was it measured the money that- and the companies that ANDHealth helped, the money that they raised, which was considerable. ANDHealth is an accelerator that also looks at how many patients they treated – and there was a lot – and it just looks at the jobs that they created in their businesses in the early stages. So these are start-up companies with great ideas that need help commercialising and getting products to market.
JENNETT: But has this got them to critical mass where these firms will be enlarging their product or range of products and selling them on scale greater, typically, than your start-up would?
KEARNEY: Yeah. So we found that they were twice as successful, in fact, at that than some other start-ups. And the way ANDHealth look at it is that they don't just look at your traditional tech companies. They take ideas from patients, from system users, which is pretty good. They take ideas from nurses, from doctors, or just from, as they said, from backyard inventors who have a good idea. There are some amazing products there, from tablets that you can swallow that can measure your gut and how it's going and do diagnostics on what's happening inside your gastrointestinal tract if I can use a…
KEARNEY: …medical term, right through to using computer games to diagnose hearing loss in children. So really amazing things that are going to have, I think, a great impact and really help the health system.
JENNETT: And is there any return to the Medical Research Future Fund from these investments? That is to say, if they're commercially successful, and you're talking about ANDHealth, is there a return on that profit, if you like, to the fund?
KEARNEY: Well, the fund doesn't really exist to get money back from the people that they invest in. The fund is something that helps invests in the health system, in research in the health system. But what it does do is the success that ANDHealth has had has showed us that this is something that's really worth investing in. And some more money was invested recently from the MRFF - I think about $50 million - in similar programmes and ANDHealth was one of the companies that was successful in getting some of that money again.
JENNETT: Are you satisfied with where e-health services are at generally in their take-up at community level in this country?
KEARNEY: Well, since we've been elected, we have injected over $1 billion into the digital health sector. It's an area that we think we have to really take up because it will, I think, advance health care dramatically for patients, which is really what we're here for. So, for example, we're finding that the uptake of My Health Record – something that we are very serious about expanding if we can – has been phenomenal. We've had a 40 per cent increase in the last year of records that have been uploaded into-
JENNETT: [Interrupts] What do you put that down to? Because there was an initial reluctance.
KEARNEY: There was an initial reluctance. I think there's a couple of things. I think during COVID, people got quite used to seeing health results digitally. I think that's part of it. But even more importantly, is that we now have about 99 per cent of GPs actually engaging with My Health Records, uploading patients’ results and treatment onto it, and encouraging their patients to use the My Health Record. It's so good. When I was a nurse, we used old paper files and they got lost. They got scribbled on, they got torn up, they got things spilt on them. You know, it was terribly inefficient. Having it all on your phone or in a digital record, I think, is so much more efficient and will certainly aid patient treatment.
JENNETT: It does seem to be accelerating after a pretty sluggish start in this country. Ged Kearney, I might just take you to one other area that's kind of related to digital health services. It's an anomaly that's been highlighted by Kate Chaney and oncologists this week on this program and in the Parliament. Now that we've got voluntary assisted dying laws in each Australian state, either in place or coming, it remains a criminal offence for a doctor to provide advice or consultations using a carriage service. That's the legal term, but to you and me, a phone or internet connection. The age-old reason being that it might have promoted suicide. It's viewed differently through voluntary assisted dying laws now. Is that an anomaly? Is that what the Government views it as and what will it do about it?
KEARNEY: Look, I have- I understand where Ms Chaney is coming from. I mean, this is about access, isn't it? And if you are live remotely particularly or in a rural area, telehealth is becoming more and more vital in the delivery of health services, and this area I guess is no different. But I do understand that it's very sensitive and that it needs to be dealt with very carefully. There could possibly be open to abuse, all sorts of…
KEARNEY: …things. So-
JENNETT: So the Government is prepared to at least look at it?
KEARNEY: Well, I believe it was raised at the Meeting of Attorneys-General and that the Attorney-General and the Health Minister are considering the options around this, yes.
JENNETT: We might take that up with the Attorney-General when we get the opportunity. Ged Kearney, from marriages to e-health, we've covered enough. We'll wrap it up there. Thank you.
KEARNEY: Thanks, Greg.

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