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Doorstop in Mackay

Transcript of Minister for Health, Greg Hunt's doorstop in Melbourne regarding the announcement of $12 million to protect and expand Heart of Australia mobile cardiology and other services in rural Queensland and Rural and Regional Health.

The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Former Minister for Health and Aged Care

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Thanks (inaudible). Well ladies and gentlemen, it’s great to welcome the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt here today for this major announcement — multi-millions of dollars of new funding, $12 million going towards the Heart of Australia mobile health clinic. 

I've got to say, what a fantastic effort to Rolf Gomes and his team here. 

It really is an impressive facility that they’ve put together here and have been rolling out for some time to rural and regional Australia.

Our funding is going to enable the continuation of that, the expansion of that, new services to be made available to areas within the electorate of Dawson, namely, Proserpine, Whitsunday Regional Council, services at (inaudible), Bowen and also Burdekin Shire Council and places like Ayr and Home Hill will be serviced.

Obviously, with Proserpine, the northern rural suburbs of Mackay Regional Council and their residents will be much more easily able to access services available within this Heart of Australia clinic, then they will coming to, say Mackay Base Hospital or other health services here.

So, it’s going to have benefits (inaudible) Mackay residents, Whitsunday residents and Bowen residents, Burdekin residents.

A fantastic thing and it’s good to see Peter Panther from Moranbah here today and Peter’s been a patient at this clinic and it certainly helped him to have a longer life, a better life and well done Peter for being here too.


Can I just say, I came to Heart of Australia in Moranbah and it was found that I had two severely blocked arteries.

I had two stents put in at St Andrews Hospital in Brisbane and Heart of Australia really saved my life. Thank goodness.


Alright. Well I might have a bit to say. Look, thanks very much to George Christensen and to Peter and to Rolf Gomes.

George, it's an absolute privilege to be back with you here again in Mackay, but particularly to be out in the cane fields and at the same time looking at better health for rural and regional Queenslanders.

So you've been one of the great advocates for that and you've overseen an increase in federal funding to this area, on our watch, in our time of 92 per cent compared with 40 per cent for the Queensland Government’s funding for their own hospitals. So more than double the rate of increase on your watch of the state government.

Now, Peter I think summed it up. The Heart of Australia saved his life. For Rolf and his team, that's what they do.

They go to communities that otherwise might not have access to specialist services. They provide cardiology, in other words, heart function, lung function, women's health. They provide support in terms of endocrinology.

They provide support on so many different fronts and without that support, if the Heart of Australia hadn’t rolled into Moranbah, there's a very good chance Peter wouldn’t be with us today. But his story is the story of so many Australians.

We know the challenge with heart disease in Australia. About 1.2 million Australians have some form of heart disease in any one year.

We know that there are more than a million hospitalisations for cardiac events in the course of a year for heart disease. Sadly, 43,000 Australians lose their lives to heart disease in any one year and that rate in rural and regional Australia is 30 per cent higher and in Indigenous Australia, is twice that level.

So the challenge is real and significant and important.

In rural and regional Australia, this has been one of the things that George fought for.

He fought for, he argued the case for a rural health package and only a few months ago we announced the half a million dollar rural health package, which was about teaching more doctors in the regions, training more doctors and nurses and allied health specialists in the regions and retaining them with something that George was passionately supportive of, which was a rural Medicare number for doctors who are junior, coming in the area.

And that’s going to make a big difference. But we also know that in some towns and some areas where the population is such that they’re not going to get ordinary access to specialists, we need something such as the Heart of Australia. And the Heart of Australia saves lives and it protects lives.

It should’ve been funded by the Queensland Government as a Queensland based service.

Sadly that hasn’t been the case and so we are stepping in. And we’re stepping in to turn what is now two of these Heart of Australia mobile hospitals into three.

And we’re extending the funding for three years and expanding the services and the number of towns.

Neurology will now be available. But new towns such as Proserpine, Bowen and Ayr, Palm Island and Cooktown will be added to existing towns such as Charters Towers, Moranbah, St George, across Queensland.

And so this service will benefit from a $12 million federal investment – it’s good to be in cane country – this service will benefit from a $12 million federal investment in the health of rural and remote Queenslanders.

They deserve equal treatment with Australians in the cities and we are going to deliver state of the art treatment which comes to them, rather then them having to go to the service.

Without George’s advocacy, without people such as Michelle Landry and Warren Entsch and Keith Pitt, we wouldn’t have had this. But we are and it’s going to help save lives and protect lives.

And Rolf, I just want to pay tribute to you and your team. This is your vision and your service, and my hope is that one day you'll be a Queenslander or Australian of the Year as recognition of what you've done to help so many Australians.


Thank you, Minister. This is a- it’s a terrific day for us, very exciting.

What it means is that Heart of Australia can now save more lives, reduce suffering for more Queenslanders living out in the bush; and we're going to do that by bringing, not just the specialists, but the specialists as well as the equipment right to the very doorstep of those communities.

I’d like to thank the Morrison Coalition Government, who will allow us to now extend the route with a third large-scale mobile clinic up into a further nine communities, which are way up into Weipa and the Cape.

I would also personally like to thank Minister Hunt for his commitment and support for Heart of Australia. The benefit it will provide to Australians living out in the bush will be direct; it’ll be tangible; and I'm sure it’ll be appreciated by many, many people across the country.

So thank you again to the Morrison Coalition government and Minister Hunt for their support. And we look forward to now hitting the road and saving more lives along the way.


Well done. Thank you.


So we’re happy to take any questions firstly, on the Heart of Australia and anything else; and at the end of it, Rolf is available for anybody who'd like to have an ECG or a stress test.


A stress test?


Yes. We’ll all put our hands up for that. Okay. Over to you guys.


So, just logistically – so the funding comes into play on 1 July. Is that when the third bus will be hitting the road? Or what’s the timeline there?


So, they’ll build and construct the third bus. Now, they’ve got the funding certainty, they can commission it.

Rolf, I don't know how long you think it’ll take before it’ll be on the road. These things – works of art as well as works of science.


Well we're hoping now that we've got the funding to support it, we’ll hit the road with the third clinic hopefully towards the end of this year, and it’d be a terrific event for people who’ve been missing out for a long time.


And how does it work? Like, do people just book an appointment, come along? Do they just rock on up and knock on the door? And is it only for people who have Parkinson’s or general health concerns too?


So we work very closely with the GPs in those communities.

Every patient needs a referral to access the service. The services available to patients of all socioeconomic demographics, and apart from cardiology, as Minister mentioned, we provide a whole range of services – endocrinology, gynaecology neurology.

Soon, we’ll be adding mental health, which is- should be a great evolution for our program and just try and support mental health out into the regions.


And in terms of funding- I mean, what’s it going to cost someone if they want to come and have an appointment?


So, for most patients, in reality, about 80 to 90 per cent of our patients are bulk billed.

The GPs know the circumstances of the patients better than we do. We say to them this is a service which every single one of your patients can access, and we allow them the discretion to indicate patients they wish to have bulk billed.


So they have a higher bulk billing rate than the average specialist right around the country.


How often does the bus stay in each town? And how many times a year maybe can you expect them to come?


We'd like to keep the service as a minimum of a monthly visit so that it’s a- it becomes a part of the regular landscape of services in the town.

That way, we can tailor the need as to what services are offered, and apart from cardiology, we have a whole range of specialists.

We can accommodate three different types of specialist at any one time. So, if on a certain month we don't need cardiology, we can fill that spot with a different type of specialist.


And how many people- because it’s kind of like Hogwarts in there with all the rooms…how many patients can you see at once?


So, in a single day, we can have between 30 to 40 patients to see with three specialists working concurrently, and the patients love it – to have something like this appear in their town.

They realise someone out there gives a damn. They haven't been forgotten. And we're just so happy and so humbled to be able to provide that service to them.


How long do you stay in each town?


We try and stay in each town three to four days.

One of the great things we’ve been able to achieve is spend less time driving and more time seeing patients now that we have more clinics, it’s certainly freed up our roster.

And what we want to have is more foot traffic through the clinic and spend less time driving and more time seeing patients who need to be seen.


How do you alert these communities to tell them when (inaudible)


So what we do is we inform the GPs every month through written communication what services are coming, when they’re coming.

We also direct them to our website where we publish our timetable – usually two months in advance. We also run GP education sessions, which we invite them to come along to. And we really get to know the communities we operate in.


And the specialists are employed by Heart of Australia?


The specialists are employed by Heart of Australia. Most of the time, they have their own lives, their own practices, but they’re just very glad to be involved in something which has so much meaning.


Great. Anything else?


Yes. So, Heart of Australia has been in operation for about four and a half years. Why is it only now getting ongoing funding?


Well it’s received a million dollars of federal funding previously. They've approached us with this expansion opportunity.

It should’ve been something done by the Queensland Government because it's a Queensland-based service.

And on our watch, in our time, we're dealing with it, and I would respectfully say to Premier Palaszczuk: please support them.

They can add a fourth bus if you support them. Match our funding would be my request.

They’ll be able to operate now for three years with certainty, but they can provide more services for more Queenslanders if the State put their hand in their own pocket for a single dollar.


But the federal government was aware of the Heart of Australia initiative at least back ‘til 2014 when it first launched when it got some money – why is it only getting ongoing funding now?


Well, I can speak for my watch and Rolf came to me and we have to examine these things very carefully, but when you have advocates such as George, Warren Entsch, you have people such as Keith Pitt and Michelle Landry, and then you get the backing to proceed at work, then I've been really privileged to support it in my time.

And it's a great service and we have put in a million which was [indistinct] request- requested. I think they've explored it with the state, the state slammed the door in their face and so we've stepped in.


So just to clarify, the state government was approached in a request for funding?


Yes, yes they were, and they said no.


This is currently only in Queensland, is there a reason why [inaudible]?


Well, to be fair, this has been a community improvement initiative.

Rolf and his team established the Heart of Australia, they secured the initial philanthropic contribution. It's a model that I think could be replicated in Australia, it particularly suits outback Queensland, and so it suits this.

But you can imagine that in other parts of Australia, it would certainly work - parts of western New South Wales, parts of the NT with remote Indigenous communities, parts of Western Australia, and South Australia, it would certainly work.

So it's a model that could well apply across different areas of rural and regional Australia.



Could we speak to the patients?


Hello there. Can I just say, community means so much to so many, especially in Moranbah and of course in other places.

I was fortunate enough for a few years now, quite a number of years, probably 20, in Moranbah teach the kids the drums and making them a bit happy, If it wasn't for Heart of Australia in Moranbah, Dr Rolf, I would probably not be here to keep teaching these kids and (inaudible).

So, my heart’s better for them to keep their beat. Thank you.


How did you hear about this service and how did it work for you?


When I was at Moranbah, I went to Dr Sally (inaudible) at Oaktree Surgery and been serviced by her and getting good advice. She recommended that I go and see Dr Rolf at Moranbah Heart (inaudible).


When about was that sorry?


I beg your pardon. What was that?


Which was year was that? When was that?


When was that?


Yeah, that you visited the bus.


That would have been over 12 months ago, well over 12 months ago and I’ve got nothing but better too ever since, so I recommend it.


Would you have had to travel if you didn’t (inaudible)?


The beauty part was, yes, was that it was instantly at your town, like a lot of other rural towns.

You don’t have to travel anywhere, and as you know, people, probably a lot older than me are frail and they have problems with travelling, and that’s the beauty.

A whole facility like this (inaudible), it’s a hospital in a town for a short period of time, to save people’s lives.




Minister, just a few questions from the (inaudible) down at Wide Bay.

They’re taking about- there’s been a lot of conversation there about the doctor shortages, particularly in those regional areas.

What is the current situation in Hervey Bay specifically to your knowledge?


So there are areas where, from time to time, a practice will move or individual doctors will move.

What we have just done - and George is one of the architects of this along with Keith Pitt– was create a half billion-dollar national rural health package and that's about attracting and retaining doctors.

We're very happy to work with the primary health network in the area and any of the individual practices to assist them with the recruiting gap.

We have just created what's called a Rural Medicare Provider Number to help attract and retain doctors in areas such as Hervey Bay. So we’re very keen to work with the Primary Health Network.


In terms of other things, I mean, is that sort of the main incentive that you’re using to attract these doctors?


There is a workforce incentive payment, which we will increase significantly.

There is a Rural Medicare Provider Number which allows us to attract junior doctors and then we're boosting the teaching and training of doctors by supporting the work of James Cook University and other universities for rural training in Australia.

If you can get a doctor who trains in the bush and comes from the bush, they are more likely to stay in the bush.


So, there is a medical practice down there in Hervey Bay that’s created this petition – I’m not sure if you’ve seen it – it’s to bring more GPs to the area, to try and ramp a bit of support.

I mean, what do you think about people are taking it into their own hands?


So we’ve just provided the Primary Health Networks, which is the coordinating body with significant funds.

We’ve just given them one and a half billion-dollar boost only last week, and that funding will help give them the freedom to provide incentives for particular areas of need.

So that's a third thing that they have the capacity as Primary Health Networks to support new doctors coming to their region.


And in terms of this specific petition, I mean, do you think that’s granted? That they are looking for more doctors and they have the right to be annoyed about it?


Well, the great thing is that communities are strongest when you have a partnership between the federal government, the state government, and the local community.

And here we have the federal government and the local community in partnership.

Other states do provide incentives to come to areas of need.

Again there's a bit of a gap in Queensland compared with other states.

My own home state of Victoria - a Labor government – and so I'm not in the business of giving them ticks.

They have incentives to go to regional areas and areas that workforce need. Queensland is not matching in any way shape or form what Victoria is doing. Okay, thank you very much.

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