Television interview with Assistant Minister Kearney on ABC Radio Sydney - 10 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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FAUZIAH IBRAHIM, HOST: This week, women's Health Specialists will meet with federal ministers for the Government's First National Health Summit.
  
JOHANNA NICHOLSON, HOST: One of the main things being discussed is a new survey result showing two thirds of women say they experience bias and discrimination in healthcare. Assistant Health Minister Ged Kearney will be at the summit, and she joins us now. Ged Kearney, welcome to Weekend Breakfast.
  
GED KEARNEY, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE: Great to be here. Thanks.
 
NICHOLSON: What we know so far, two out of three women experiencing bias and discrimination, that in of itself is pretty alarming. What else has this survey shown?
 
KEARNEY: It is quite alarming, isn't it? Since I was appointed Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, so many women have come to me to tell me their stories about how they think the health system has let them down. And I wanted to validate those anecdotes through some research. And we did the survey. Nearly 3000 women responded to the survey and told us that they felt that the health system did not listen to them, that doctors dismissed their pain, that health professionals, you know, said, oh, it's just a woman's lot that you have pelvic pain, for example. You just need to take a couple of Panadol and go home and lie down.
 
This type of healthcare is not helping women. There's a lot of things that we can do about this, but I have established a National Women’s Health Advisory Council where I have experts and women with lived experience and a lot of advocacy groups who are working with me to try to look at the system that we feel has been established historically by men and for men. In fact, I've heard it say that the health system is designed for a 50-year-old white man from Pennsylvania.
 
But we are looking into this. We have a National Summit next week where I've drawn together research and experts, and we will be delving much more deeply into the End Gender Bias survey and drawing more from that to help us make policy that makes the health system better for women.
 
NICHOLSON: You were a nurse earlier on in your life, in your experience is what you said before - that the system is designed by men for men - is that what you've seen as to why women aren't being listened to?
 
KEARNEY: Yes. I think historically that is the case.
 
A lot of diagnostics, for example, are designed for symptoms that men experience. The classic example is heart attack, where we know that if you are a woman, you are twice as likely to die from a heart attack than a man. This is being addressed right now, but the symptoms for a man with a heart attack are quite different to that from a woman. So they're simply not recognized when a woman presents, say to the ED. A man has that crushing chest pain, you know, pain down his left arm, pain in his left jaw. It's quite different for women who might have generalised pain across their chest, shortness of breath, and, you know, feeling anxious, et cetera. There's a lot of work that has been done on that particular issue. It's good, but we need to raise examples - a lot more examples right across the system of how women present with symptoms that are quite different to men or what's more with symptoms like pelvic pain that simply aren't understood and women are told, just put up with it. Or, you know, in the case of endometriosis, for example, women are accused of drug shopping every month when their period comes because they are actually in excruciating pain and need pain relief, and those symptoms are simply dismissed. So a lot needs to happen.
 
Just on the endometriosis issue, we have established specialist endometriosis and pelvic pain clinics right around the country, which women are flocking to. They are really loving the fact that they're being heard, that they're being believed and they're getting treatment.
 
We need to see a lot more of that in the system. because
 
 NICHOLSON: Because you go to the doctor and you feel as though you're going to be dismissed and your concerns aren't going to be listened to, no doubt that deters you from going to the doctor in the first place or it makes you feel certain things. What did the women describe feeling when they were dismissed and what impact is this having on women's health?
 
KEARNEY: Well, I think it's having a detrimental impact on women's health. I'm positive about that. And, and maybe I could tell you one little story that is a prime example, Jo. A 70-year-old woman approached me and wanted to tell me her story as lots of women are doing right now, and she said she went to the doctor because she was having pain during sexual intercourse, abdominal pain during sex. And she was worried about this. And the doctor basically said, “wow, you are 70”. You know, basically said, “why are you still having sex?” And you know, “it's to be expected”. And didn't even really examine her. She said she felt humiliated, she felt embarrassed, she felt really belittled and, and, and went home and put the pain got worse, but she didn't present because she was so upset about it. Mm. She actually had appendicitis and presented to hospital three days later with a nearly ruptured appendix.  So you are quite right. I mean, if that had have been picked up very ear much earlier, she wouldn't have been in quite a crisis two or three days down the track.
 
It  can have serious consequences, of course that is an extreme case, but, if women are feeling that they're not heard, that they're - there's a term that has been used to me - gaslit, they won't use the health system. You add to that intersectionality if you don't speak English or if you're a First Nations woman or, woman with a disability.
 
Women who are overweight often tell me they present with all sorts of problems and they're just told  “oh, just lose weight,  you'll be right” and you're not examined properly. Yes, there's, there's lots of issues to deal with
 
NICHOLSON: And we'll no doubt keep across what comes of the National Health Summit as well. On another issue, briefly this week, Australian researchers this week have argued that in the Lancet Medical Journal that menopause is being over medicalised, the treatment options are too simplistic, narrow, and swayed by commercial interest. What do you make of that and how do you strike that balance between getting the people who need treatment, their treatment, but not giving unnecessary treatment?
 
KEARNEY: Well, look, to be honest, I really welcome the fact that we are having a conversation right now on national television about menopause. For too long, it's been an issue that has been swept under the carpet. Women are being told again, “it's just something that you have to put up with”. And so I think it's fantastic that some of our best researchers and most enlightened people on this issue are having a national conversation about it and are putting it out there. We don't want to catastrophize menopause. That's true. We don't want to drive women to dodgy medicines and treatments that maybe they don't need.
 
But at the same time, I don't want women to feel - much like the endometriosis situation - that if they do have serious symptoms from menopause and it is interrupting their daily lives, that they should just put up with it.
 
I'm glad we're having this conversation. I think there's a lot more research needs to be done in menopause. We have established a Senate inquiry, the Labor Party, co-sponsored a Senate inquiry into menopause. I'm hoping that women out there will come and tell us their stories, because I do think we need more research, and I do think that it's something that, we shouldn't be just saying, “just put up with it”. I, myself,  can declare here, had a terrible experience with perimenopause. I nearly gave up my job because of the symptoms I had. I thought, I can't do this anymore. If I hadn't have done that, you know, maybe I wouldn't be here. If I had have given up, maybe I wouldn't be here with you now. We don't want that to happen.
 
I think that the message is, it's not a one size fits all issue. Talk to your doctor about it. Don't be afraid to speak up if you are having troubles with menopause. Make a submission to the Senate inquiry so that we can really get some good policies in place.
 
NICHOLSON: Assistant Health Minister Ged Kearney, it's been great to have you on weekend breakfast. Thank you.
 
KEARNEY: It's been a pleasure. Thank you.

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