This content relates to a former minister

Doorstop interview in Launceston

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt talking about new medicine listings on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and other health issues.

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

Media event date:
Date published:
Media type:
General public


It's great to welcome Health Minister Greg Hunt here to Launceston today. We’ve just held a health forum here in Launceston with a number of health professionals, including Dr Jerome Muir Wilson, who runs this practice here at the Health Hub, and also Glenn Richardson with the AMA doctors.

I think that was a very productive forum this morning and then the Minister has a very important announcement to make today as well.


Great. Look, thanks very much to Bridget as the new Member for Bass, she arrived in Canberra, she's made mental health a focus, she's made the support for local families with chronic disease - in particular for the rural communities, those that are smaller - and had a really profound impact.

And to be invited here today to work on mental health, on new medicines, on primary care, on support for the hospital, that's all immensely important.

And to have Jerome and Glenn and Jeff and Kat who are representing not only the Launceston Health Hub but the AMA and the Skin Cancer Specialisation Unit too.

We received some of the best of what we have in the north east here in the electorate of Bass with regards to medical services.

I’m delighted today to be able to announce four new medicines; two for melanoma and two for multiple sclerosis.

These medicines will be added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, in particular for stage three melanoma, the two new medicines Tafinlar and Mekinist will help patients who would otherwise have very grim prospects.

And for Jeff, we were able to talk about his patients who have skin cancer and he said he immediately had two in mind.

He knows the medicines, one had been prescribed to his father and one had been prescribed to him. So he's not just a skin cancer specialist but he and his family had to deal with the challenges of it.

All up, 260 patients will save on average $128,000 a year and that is the difference between access to medicines, it’s the difference between a shot at life.

But to be able to list these medicines for melanoma stage three, for skin cancer is about giving 260 patients and 260 families a real sense of hope and of outcome and of better quality of life.

In addition to that, we are also supporting two new medicines for paediatric multiple sclerosis. In particular, Gilenya and Tysabri will be added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

And instead of $28,000 a year it will be $6.50 a script or $40.30 a script.

And that’s a massive difference for families. And it gives these beautiful young children a shot at better outcomes and better treatment.

We know that Tasmania has one of the highest rates in the world for multiple sclerosis and we are working with the Menzies Centre for Health at the University of Tasmania, on a world leading study of the prevalence, the diagnosis and the treatment.

These new medicines will help our young kids and Bridget and Jerome and Glenn and Jeff have been advocates medicines being added to the PBS, and as the medical experts recommend them, we’ll list them.

The last thing is I want to say that coming out of today's discussion, we’ve agreed that Bridget will lead a community co-designed process for the new Launceston Mental Health Hub and it will be flexible in its design.

It's about giving every person with a mental health challenge the capacity to seek help when they need it, where they need it and in a way which will sustain them.

But it's a huge issue, Bridget's been a powerful advocate, perhaps the signature of her first six months representing Bass has been the focus and the courage in the way in which she's been able to shed light on the mental health challenges, but then to bring the services to Launceston and surrounding areas.


There’s been dozens of drugs recommended to be put on the PBS, why these four?


So these ones directly from the decision of what's called the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, the medical experts and they're the body that makes the recommendations and by law that's a prerequisite and when they recommend them, we'll list them.


What's the total cost to the budget putting these drugs on the PBS?


So this year there's a $10 billion cost in terms of the overall PBS, the specific value of those will be included in the mid-year economic update. But in particular it's $128,000 a year saving for patients with the stage 3 melanoma and a $28,000 saving for patients with multiple sclerosis.


Do you plan to visit the Launceston General while you’re here and talk to some of the staff facing increased demand and pressure?


Well, we've had representatives today from all of the broader regions’ hospital, health, medical system - and so we’ve been talking right across so we weren’t confining just to one, but I’m looking forward on subsequent visits to visiting Launceston Hospital.

We’re working on the new birthing units, and whether it’s myself or the Prime Minister, or whether it's the Treasurer, we're looking forward to being there with Bridget to ensure that those services are open, and better support for mums.


Do you think the states are spending enough money on the LGH, given these increased demands and pressures that it’s feeling?


Look, I think Tasmania is responding very well.

I was talking to Sarah Courtney last night and previously with the Premier; we've worked together and we're delivering an extra $750 million for Tasmania's hospitals through the new hospitals agreement over a five-year period and an extra $730 million as a one off payment with the transfer of the Mersey Hospital back to Tasmania.

So together, that's almost $1.5 billion extra for Tasmania's hospitals.

They fought hard for that but they were successful in securing it and whether it's the combination of Bridget; whether it's Tasmania's senators or Sarah Courtney and Will Hodgman; they've made the case and we've been able to respond.


Not just the LGH though, but do you think generally the Tasmanian Government is spending enough on health?


I think what we've seen is one of the most significant investments of any state government on a per capita basis.

So they've taken from a lower level and had one of the largest increases by any of the states and so I think it's important to recognise they've only been able to do that because by getting the economic settings right, they've therefore been able to generate the income and generate the capacity to make the expenditure.


Is it acceptable that an eleven-year-old boy - he's a burns victim - is still waiting 16 months for skin graft surgery on the state's elective surgery waiting list? Would you class that as acceptable?


So we've responded to the needs of the state with an extra $20 million for elective surgery; the first five million has already been paid.

On the specific case, I'll leave that respectfully because I don't have the details for the Tasmanian Minister.

But our task and one of the things Bridget fought for as a candidate was to get that $20 million to directly inject into elective surgery.


Without knowing the details, would you say that's acceptable that Spencer Connelly has to spent that amount of time; 16 months for skin grafting?


Our job is to always make sure that there are additional funds precisely for cases such as Spencer's.


Tasmanians are also taking out no interest loans to fund their own elective surgery. Is that acceptable, many low income Tasmanians?


Well again, our approach has been to ensure that if we've got a strong economy, then that's how we can deliver an extra $1.5 billion for Tasmania's hospitals through the combination of the five-year agreement and the Mersey Hospital funding.

Secondly, what we've been able to do is directly inject $20 million dollars for elective surgery funding.


Just on the NDIS - a number of Tasmanians are expected to share their stories about the issues with the NDIS today.

Are you concerned about the future of the scheme given the significant concerns?


Well one of the things is we took a scheme which was significantly unfunded, and we've been able to fund it. The previous government imposed a Medicare levy surcharge to cover half of it.

We've been able to fully fund it without a Medicare levy surcharge and the equation for the country is as you bring people into employment and off unemployment, there's more money going into the budget and there's less money being paid out in welfare, which means therefore we're able to support the NDIS on permanently fully funded basis.

We've been able to support the extra $1.5 billion for the hospitals.

And to the individual cases, this is precisely what we want to know because we took a system where there was an idea but no detail and we're now bringing people onto it at a dramatic rate, and if there are any issues then it's critical that we know.

I know that that's what Stuart Robert wants.


Are you committed to implementing recommendations that eventually come from the inquiry?


I'll leave that to Stuart Robert, but I know that he is committed to making changes that continue to bring more Australians onto it.

One of the things that Bridget has been very strongly supporting, patients with autism, and this was not included as part of the previous Government's design; it's something that we have implemented.


So, I’ve just got two quick other issues.

How are the Tarkine viewed nationally given a decade ago Malcolm Turnbull placed it on the Australian Heritage Council priority assessment program, yet today, we've got protesters in the region trying to save it?


I think it's a very important part of Australia's environmental heritage. I know the area well.

As a former Environment Minister, one of the things which Brett and Senator Colbeck and others were very focused on was to protect it from a then-proposal for a- what was effectively close to a superhighway through it, and we were able to make sure that didn't occur, that there was a much more environmentally sensitive approach.

And so, it's a beautiful area. I've had the privilege of travelling through it and indeed staying in the area, and we want to keep it safe, not just for decades but for generations and generations.


On the ACT’s cannabis laws, are you concerned that they may be in violation of the UN's international treaty obligations on illicit drug control, and what would be the consequences of that?


Yes, they are very clearly at risk of breaching our international obligations.

So the Tasmanian Government has done the right thing. The ACT Government blundered in to making laws without any thought.

The ACT Government blundered in to making recreational cannabis changes which are not safe for patients with mental health conditions.

We know that the evidence is that recreational cannabis can lead to higher rates of schizophrenia. Therefore, it can have huge personal impacts.

And we also now know that the narcotics board within the United Nations has written to Australia with deep concerns.

That does have an impact for Tasmania because one of the reasons that we're able to have a strong poppy industry here in Tasmania is because we have the support of the International Narcotics Board.

And for the ACT to put at risk Australia's standing with the International Narcotics Board, puts at risk Tasmania's poppy industry.


Have you spoken to the ACT’s Chief Minister about the laws or?


We have written to- I've written to them. The Attorney-General has written to them. Their responses have frankly been inadequate.

They have been irresponsible and they are blind to the mental health consequences.

But they also appear to be utterly insensitive to the consequences for Australia, and in particular, for Tasmania.


Does the process behind having drugs added to the PBS need to be sped up?


Well, we have reduced the rate of time for listing by 40 per cent since we've come into government. So, that's a dramatic improvement in the speed to bringing new medicines on board.

We've also added what's called a provisional pathway, and we've also added what's called a priority pathway.

Now, the next step is that we are working on a flexible approach and I announced that with the PharmAus meeting only a couple of weeks ago.


Labor Senator Helen Polley is talking about Tasmania’s access to GPs today and says that that should be one of your key focus given that the cost, especially with some of our significant low income earners.

Do you think that has that been a focus of any of your conversations today?


Yeah, this was the real reason. Bridget, do you want to speak first and I’ll respond as to why you brought me down?


Look, this is one of the reasons why we've brought the Minister to Launceston today.

I've been having a number of conversations since my election in May around access to GPs and a range of other issues across the health sector here in northern Tasmania, whether it's with GPs, the hospital, allied health, preventative health and a range of others.

I'll continue those conversations but I made an undertaking to those people that I've spoken to that I would bring the Minister here for them to hear directly- for him to hear directly from them. And that's what we've done today and I think it was a very productive meeting.


And so what we're doing is- and this has been, you know, key input from Glenn and Jerome focusing on a Tasmanian regional health plan as part of bringing better primary care or access to doctors and nurses and allied health workers to people in the regions.

And we'll be working on a mental health co-design with the community, and we'll also be working on the support for doctors and nurses and allied health workers in regional Tasmania.


So I think we will look to hold a forum, if you like, in the next couple of weeks. I'd like to do that before I head back to Canberra, so that I can have some further conversations with Minister Hunt in the next sitting fortnight.

I think Jerome will be actively involved in those conversations.

He's got a lot of ideas, as do others, around what the mental health- adult mental health services for Launceston might look like.

And I think it's really important that we don't have decisions that are made in Canberra that don't suit the needs of the community here.

So the best opportunity that we have to overcome that challenge is to actually have it co-designed here with the community that it will serve.


Help us improve

If you would like a response please use the enquiries form instead.