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Doorstop Interview, Grafton, NSW

Transcript of Minister for Health, Greg Hunt's doorstop interview in Grafton, NSW on 23 February 2017.

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

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Good morning everyone and thank you for being here. It’s with a lot of delight actually that I welcome the Health Minister Greg Hunt to our community today.

It’s not a secret that this community, our community has had trauma over the last year or so. We have had a local committee who have been working very hard on developing a local health plan.

Greg became Health Minister, I’d been talking to the previous health minister but when Greg became Health Minister just four weeks ago, I waited two days. I was very good.

I gave him two days to settle into the job before I rang him and to brief him on the situation here in our community. He listened very hard and very carefully and has acted very quickly.

This is one of the first communities that he has visited in his role as the Health Minister. So he’s obviously going to make a few announcements soon that I’m very delighted about and I thank him for being here.

I thank the community we’ve just had a community meeting with local mental health professionals and welfare providers and providers in our community. And we’ve been doing a lot of work as a community over the last 15 to 18 months to get a health care plan, a mental health plan ready to roll out.

At this stage, I’ll welcome and hand over to the Health Minister.


Thanks very much to Kevin, to Wendy who has been the chair of the Our Healthy Clarence Community Committee, to Patrick McGorry who is not just perhaps Australia’s but one of the world’s leading experts in youth mental health and suicide prevention.

I’ve had the honour this morning after Kevin’s invitation to meet with the community and this is the community that has put together the Our Healthy Clarence Plan and the name of the plan says everything. It’s a plan built recognising some of the hardships and the tragedy but built on a sense of hope and community which is taking the lead in defining its own future.

I ask the community members and the committee members what did they want to see from this and they said this is a plan built on hope.

A plan built on hope but backed by practical action and it is to say to the people of Grafton and the Clarence that we, the community, are taking our action to make this community as healthy as possible.

Mental health is something that can touch any Australian family. It’s just in the same way that we can physical injuries or illness through our lives, mental illness, mental health issues can touch any Australian.

I think that we need to be more open about the fact that not just one or two or three but 4 million Australians a year can suffer some form of chronic or episodic mental health event. In other words, mental health is an issue for each and every Australian family at some time in their lives.

Against that background, this plan, Our Healthly Clarence Plan is as strong and clear a community action as I’ve seen anywhere in the country. It’s an inspiring plan and our role now is to support that plan. So I am honoured to be able to announce that the Australian Government will support the Our Healthy Clarence Plan.

Firstly there will be a new headspace here in Grafton. That will have ongoing funding. Permanent funding. The initial four years will be approximately $3.5 million.

Vahid who does such a brilliant job with the local Primary Health Network will be working to get this up within a matter of months. A long plan, it’s right underway, the planning is there and this is about a one-stop shop.

A youth mental health services hub for our young people to add to the existing services to give them a place where it’s a safe place and a supportive place.

Secondly there will be $600,000 of Commonwealth funding to support suicide prevention and response services within the town.

That’s about the work of cranes and mental health first aid, working with indigenous communities and also working with grief and trauma for those communities that have been through the worst and most terrible loss.

And finally there will be additional psychiatric services that will be available both in person and now through telemedicine. The Primary Health Network is putting that together.

So this is the community’s plan. It’s a plan built on hard work, the community taking responsibility but above all else a sense of hope and commitment to the community. That was the message that Wendy and her team gave to me, that they’ve taken ownership.

Kevin’s role and our role is to support the community and I’m genuinely honoured that we’ve been invited here and that we’re able to do it.

Wendy, I might ask you if you wanted to say something?


Sure I guess on behalf of the Our Healthy Clarence Steering Committee and all of the community members who worked really hard to provide input into the plan, we’ve been working over the last 12 to 18 months on developing this and engaging the community as much as we can in the process.

And I would say this is what comes of all of that hard work is when we have the community ready to take action, we have the Government ready to step behind us and support all of the work that we’ve done.

So I guess on behalf of the committee, they’re very grateful for the support from all of the organisations, all the community and the Minister and Kevin.


Alright, and Pat?


Yeah well like the Minister says, it’s a great privilege to be here today and meet people. I have a connection with this area.

I’ve worked for many years in the Coffs Harbour headspace. I’ve seen a lot of young people from this region who are suffering and we’ve done our best to help them but this is a much more hopeful and positive step we’re taking today.

Listening to the plan this morning, Wendy and her amazing group of people, I guess it gave us sense of hope and it gave the sense of a very healthy community actually community of strong health community that are tackling a serious issue.

But Clarence Valley is not alone, this is something that’s happening all around Australia. Three thousand Australians die every year from preventable causes of death, suicides, and a lot of them are young people.

Hundreds and hundreds of young people are dying. This is preventable but the elements, you’ve done everything you can, I heard this morning, as a community to put the context and the building blocks in place. The health system now has to respond.

The Minister, I’d just like to congratulate him and the Government on their decisive step today to tackle this problem.

Minister mentioned today that the PHN and Vahid, they’re doing everything they can so I feel very confident we’re going to start building more expertise, taking this problem seriously.

Mental health has not being taken seriously in this country or anywhere in the world until the last few years and we’ve seen, start to build a system of care for young people.

It’s going to take four years and the specialist part of it is the bit that is not there. Headspace is the front room of the house.

We need to build the rest of the house too. And you’ve done everything you can in the community and we at headspace, Jason Trethowan, CEO, is here today too. We will do everything we can to support you and we will make it happen as fast as we can.

Thank you.


We’re happy to take any questions.


Yeah. So you said you’ve met with community members today. Have you met with any of the families directly affected by youth suicides here?


Yes I have and obviously their journey is an impossibly difficult journey. Out of respect for the privacy I won’t go into that and there are other meetings this afternoon.

So Kevin has helped arrange that and I’m a dad and I just can’t imagine a tougher more difficult journey but the dignity and the courage that I saw this morning, that’s as powerful as life could be.


A study released by the University of New South Wales late last year was quite critical of headspace, saying that it had little or no effect on people who had been through the program and in fact one-in-ten reported a decline in their mental health after going through their program.

Are you confident that a headspace is the right option for Clarence Valley?


I have a deep, strong believe in headspace. There are many different views on the best way to address mental health challenges, but headspace is the model which others have looked at around the world and said that there’s something happening in Australia which is profoundly important. It’s not the only thing.

Of course, there is the youth suicide prevention support for psychiatric support, and above all else a community which is taking ownership and leadership and providing inspiration and hope in its own right.

So I think that this is an important part, and around the country I know that the communities that I’ve visited and represent are all seeking headspace, and I’ve not met a community that didn’t want additional headspace support.


Minister, would you like me to comment specifically on that?


Yeah sure, absolutely.


That study you refer to was the Government’s independent evaluation of headspace, which has been in the public domain for over nine months.

That study showed that headspace has greatly improved access for young Australians all around the country, and has outcomes drastically better than standard care. So that report was misleading and I think inaccurate.


The other thing about headspace is for its under-25s, its statistics show that older men are at great risk of taking their own lives from suicide. So what are you doing to address the older people?


I think this is a very important point. We have elevated, and I’ve made the personal decision, that mental health and preventive health will be one of the four pillars of our long-term national health plan.

One, a rock solid support for Medicare – an absolutely rock solid support.

Two, support for the long-term hospital system, we believe in the public hospital system deeply, we believe in the balance with the private hospital system as well.

Three, for the first time ever mental health and preventive health will be one of the pillars of our long-term national health plan.

And four, medical research to give us the treatment, not just in the physical health space, but also the mental health space that will allow us to go forward.

Twinned with that, there’s over $4 billion a year that’s being invested, and right now we’re working with the Primary Health Networks on rolling out frontline services around the country, not just to young people, but to those of all ages and backgrounds.


Minister Hunt, how would you characterise the youth suicide situation in the Clarence Valley as compared to the rest of Australia?


Look, I want to be very careful about singling out regions. I’m here because Kevin and the community invited me.

There is a real challenge and there’s been, as we’ve just seen, desperate heartache and terrible pain, but there has to be a way forward in terms of hope and practical action, and the community has provided the hope and it’s our job to provide the support for that practical action.


What’s the timeline looking like for the headspace and for the rest of the mental health services you’re planning to offer?


So in terms of the youth suicide prevention, that funding is available immediately. In terms of the headspace, it’s as soon as the Primary Health Network is able to get it up and running.

But I’ve got to say, I was amazed in the best possible way at the progress that Vahid and the Primary Health Network had made. So Vahid believes it can be done within just a few very short months, and that will be one of the fastest turnarounds in the country.


Minister, if I could just ask you about a different issue. We’ve got some new Medicare stats out today showing bulk billing rates are up and patient numbers are up. What can we infer from that?


So I’m delighted that Medicare bulk billing for GPs is at record levels. We’ve had an increase from 84.7 per cent bulk billing for the same period last year to 85.4 per cent – the highest bulk billing figures for GPs on record.

What does that mean? That means that more patients are able to go to the doctor without having to put their hand in their pocket.

That means that what we’re doing is working. And so Medicare funding is going up every year from $22 billion, to $23 billion, to $24 billion, to $25 billion, and bulk billing rates are going up, which mean that fewer people are having to put their hand in their pocket to go to the doctor.

Alright, thank you very much.

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