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Doorstop in Sunshine Coast

Transcript of Minister for Health, Greg Hunt's doorstop in Sunshine Coast speaking about record bulk billing figures; the Federal Budget and the Thompson Institute.

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

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Thanks very much to Andrew as the Member for Fisher, to Ted, the Member for Fairfax. Both have been champions for the Thompson Institute. So, this institute for mind and neuroscience is about getting people treatment and hope, it's about research being applied to finding a way back from whether it's anxiety or depression, the work that we've been discussing in relation to eating disorders, bipolar and of course above all, else suicide prevention.

So we lose nearly 3000 Australians a year to suicide, and this is a deep strong shared passion and a personal passion. And the Commonwealth is contributing $5 million to the work of the Thompson Institute with a real focus on youth mental health and suicide prevention. This is part of a much broader approach to health across the nation.

And I am delighted to announce today, record bulk billing figures not just for Queensland, but for Australia as a whole. Across Australia, the bulk billing figure will now rise to 85.8 per cent for the year to date. That's the highest of any year to date figure on record. It's a 0.4 per cent increase for 3.7 million additional services where people go to the doctor without having to pay, where Australians can go to the doctor without having to pay.

It's 3.8 per cent up from the figure that Labor left when they departed office. So, each year, every year has been a record for bulk billing and the ability of Australians to go to the doctor without having to pay. And I think that's just good news for patients and it’s good news for the health system.

The other thing, of course, is that here in Queensland; the figures are 50 per cent higher in terms of the rate of increase compared with the nation. So, up 0.4 per cent in terms of bulk billing figures across the nation, up 0.6 per cent here in Queensland. So, what we're seeing is a very significant increase in the number of patients who are able to access the doctor and to do so without having to pay. And I think that's good news for Queenslanders and good news for Australians.

In regards to the budget next week, any spoilers?

Yes, there'll be record Medicare funding, but in particular this will be a strong budget for mental health. So, today is part of the theme leading into the budget that suicide prevention and mental health will be a very important part of what we do. They should be an important part of what we do.

And we will be partnering with the medical community and the research community to deliver better mental health outcomes. It's something that affects 4 million Australians directly every year, but indirectly it affects virtually every Australian. We all know somebody with a mental health challenge, if we aren’t experiencing it ourselves. So mental health will be a very important part of the budget this year.

What about the Sunshine Coast, how much of a priority is our region to you guys?

Well, I'm here today and we have done a number of things. The work of Ted and Andrew together has been immensely strong. What we've seen, of course, is the support for the Thompson Institute really pioneering, through Jim who's here today and his team, pioneering suicide prevention and youth mental health work.

Of course just around the corner we're supporting the 50 new places that will be part of the Griffith University extension for the Sunshine Coast University Hospital and the precinct. So a medical school here on the Sunshine Coast, there couldn’t be a stronger clearer commitment to the needs and the capacity of the Sunshine Coast to be a medical leader.

And it wouldn't have happened, from the day that I came into office, I was double teamed by these two and they made the case. Queensland, of course, committed to pay half of the cost of the additional medical students, they've welshed on that, I hope that they rethink and perhaps put it into the Bloomhill Cancer Centre, which we're happy not to receive the funding if they put it into the Bloomhill Cancer Centre, but they've walked away from their commitment, but we will meet the full cost if they won't of all of the places that the Sunshine Coast branch of Griffith's medical school.

Talking about commitments, you mentioned before that $5 million was committed to the Thompson Institute last year. Should we expect to see more money allocated in next week’s budget for the Thompson Institute?

So the Thompson commitment was over a series of years. So, as they start up, and Jim will very happily take you through how they intend to apply that funding.

They actually called for $10 million, so is there any expectation that the $5 million will grow?

Well, I think this is the first part of the funding. When it comes to the end of the contract we’ll consider that then. But from all of my discussions with Jim and his team they’ve been very, very happy with the outcome.

Minister, how are we going with national waiting lists for surgery? There’s a Sunshine Coast woman who’s broken both her elbows and she says she’s been told she’ll have to wait up to a year for an operation

So, this is very interesting. We have $7 billion of additional hospital funding on the table for Queensland. Six of the eight states have already signed up. They’ve already been able to apply in their forward projections, the new hospital funding. We’re going from $100 billion hospital agreement over five years to $130 billion and Queensland is refusing to take the money that the Commonwealth is offering.

The second thing is they have deliberately blown out public hospital waiting lists by bringing private patients in, by harvesting private patients, a near 740 per cent increase in the number of private patients in public hospitals which has pushed public patients, and many of them are lower income who can’t afford private health, down the waiting list.

So we want Queensland to a) accept the $7 billion that we’re offering. Three other Labor states or territories have already signed up and there’s no excuse for putting your patients at risk, but secondly, to make sure that they’re balanced in how they treat private patients in public hospitals. The business of harvesting is driving up the cost of premiums but it’s driving up the waiting list for public patients.

So, in this particular case it’s very hard for the Federal Government to help if the state isn’t coming to the party?

No, the states own, operate and run the public hospital system. What we do is we provide growth funding, $7 billion of additional funding for Queensland. That’s there to be taken. All they have to do is agree to the reform process which they actually agree to. They support all of the six principles of reform but for political reasons they’ve been holding out.

But they won’t be able to bank that money in their budget so we think that they should be serious, come and they can apply that funding to reducing waiting lists and at the same time they should stop doing the things which are actually blowing out the waiting lists of prioritising private patients over public patients. Effectively they’re privatising Medicare in their own state rather than making sure that it’s a public good for all patients. Okay, thank you very much.

Did you want to say anything, Ted?

I would just like to say that it’s wonderful to be part of a government that continues to invest in health. The bulk billing figures that the minister has outlaid today, wonderful news for Queensland, for residents of the Sunshine Coast, more and more people getting medical treatment for free.

The investment from the new medical school, and today particularly through the leadership of the Minister and the Member for Fisher, Andrew Wallace, this investment in the Thompson Institute is first class. And so with the budget next week it’s wonderful to have the Minister to know the Sunshine Coast is indeed where it should be and that’s centre of the mind of our senior leadership team. Thanks very much, Minister. Thank you.

Andrew, treatment of mental health is obviously very close to your heart, did you want to add anything ?

Look, mental health is something that impacts on around about 4 million Australians on a day to day basis. Yesterday, today and tomorrow, round about eight people will take their own lives and for every one person that does take their own life, 30 will be unsuccessful. So, that’s every day eight people will take their own lives, and 240 people will be unsuccessful. That impacts upon families, friends, colleagues.

The impact on that upon our broader community is very, very substantial and not just from a financial perspective, albeit, estimated to be $60 billion a year, that’s what mental health costs our economy each year. But the impacts upon families and friends is very significant and I am very, very proud and very appreciative of the Federal Government, in particular the Health Minister Greg Hunt who has made mental health front and centre of his tenure as the Federal Health Minister and we all deserve- we owe the Minister a debt of gratitude for his work in this space.

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