Date published: 
19 March 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

DEBORAH KNIGHT:

I cannot believe what’s happening in this country right now. We’ve got panic buying. We’ve got hoarding. My chicken man that I told you about, overwhelmed with orders for birds and chook feed.

And now, people are stripping the shelves bare of essentials.

In many cases, life-saving medications. Things like children’s Panadol, Ibuprofen and even Ventolin.

Now, I understand people are worried about COVID-19. I am too. But it’s not on. It’s dangerous.

Experts say that this chronic medicine shortage will last for weeks and it’s coming just as the cold and flu season begins, just when we need it most.

It’s sparking fears young kids could wind up in emergency departments with life-threatening fevers because parents can’t get their hands on crucial medication.

Well, the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt is on the line with us now. Minister, hello to you.

GREG HUNT:

And hi to you, Deb.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:

We’ll get to the medicine shortage in a moment.

But what are the latest figures in relation to coronavirus? We know it changes rapidly. Have you got the latest information?

GREG HUNT:

Just coming to air, I consulted with the National Incident Centre. In Australia, we have, as of this morning, 565 cases and sadly, six lives lost.

That will be updated later today.

Globally, over 204,000 cases and 8400 lives lost at 167 countries with official reports.

Although, we expect that- pretty much all of the world is either there now or will be very soon.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:

All of the measures that you've announced, that your government has announced, and Scott Morrison announced yesterday are aiming to flatten the curve, to reduce the number- the spike in cases.

Are we achieving that?

GREG HUNT:

Well, yes, we are. Because what we've done right from the outset was to aim to reduce the curve, to flatten the curve, as Australians now know, and to delay the onset.

We were able to buy ourselves a month, which put us well ahead of much of the rest of the world, with the immediate bans on arrival from China, the bans on Iran, the actions that we took; and one of the world's leading testing programs.

We're now at just over 85,000 tests conducted in Australia.

And so that's about a 99.5 per cent negative rate, which means 99.5 per cent of people are negative and about half percent are positive.

What that means in practice is that we would encourage people who do not meet the requirements of testing not to seek it, which is travel overseas, exposure to a known case and symptoms – one of those first two: overseas or exposure and known symptoms – so as we can focus on finding those people who are most at risk.

But what we're doing is looking to reduce the spike, reduce the numbers, protect the vulnerable.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:

A lot of people are worried about that though because you say that if you haven't tested those criteria, that you shouldn't go and get tested.

But the advice that we're seeing from other countries like South Korea was to test, test, test; ensure that we do test everyone to keep the numbers down.

Have we reached that point? I know that there's been a shortage in testing kits. More are on their way. But a lot of people are questioning that, Minister.

GREG HUNT:

No. This is consistent with what's happening around the world.

Of all the countries in the world, there are very few that have actually conducted more tests than Australia.

So we are test, test, testing. But we are focusing those on those most at risk.

We are managing a global supply shortage in terms of many, many different pieces of equipment.

One of them is testing kits. We've had 97,000 that have been guaranteed for arrival this week, with the first half arriving overnight, two nights ago, and then the others expected in the next 48 hours.

What that means is, similarly, we're looking at alternative forms of testing such as what's called point of care.

The first of those new point-of-care tests has been approved provisionally by the Therapeutic Goods Administration this morning.

They had taken six months’ worth of work and they've done it in 24 hours.

And that will expand the range of testing kits available through GPs, fever clinics, EDs and other mechanisms. So.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:

You mentioned the fever clinics though. A lot of them won't be up and running for a while.

We've had suggestions from Labor, from Anthony Albanese, that the MASH-style mobile medical centres should get up and running.

We should call on the Defence Forces to help this in the short term. Is that an option?

GREG HUNT:

Well, he's factually incorrect. Already, we have 130 clinics up and running around the country.

More will come online and these are being done in a variety of ways: working with states, working with community health, working with individual GPs.

Unfortunately that statement was made without reference to facts or a briefing.

So I’m sorry for him that he made that statement but it was incorrect.

However, what we’ll continue to do with the resources that we have is make sure understandably that they're focused on those most at risk.

Ultimately, we have to protect our elderly.

We know that this is most likely to have an impact on the elderly and most likely to have an impact on those with respiratory conditions.

So against that background, we’ve also instituted Telehealth.

The latest figures, again, that I have is over 36,000 Telehealth consultations as of close of business two days ago.

Those figures will be updated to me during the course of the day.

This is a service that did not exist that's gone from zero to 36,000.

We've gone from zero to 85,000 tests and we'll continue to do that.

And through the night, from early in the morning, what we've been focusing on is the supply lines.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:

Well, Minister, what about the shortage of medicines, because we know that is hitting so many people hard. People hoarding Ventolin, hoarding children's Panadol.

How are we going to stop that from happening?

GREG HUNT:

So we are putting in place new rules. These have been approved this morning.

The Pharmacy Guild and the Pharmacy Society and the Pharmacy Services Association will all be implementing after discussion with Health, actions to ensure that there are limits to the dispensing of certain prescription products and actions to ensure that over-the-counter medicines that are in shortage are managed.

In particular, three things will occur.

For Ventolin and for paediatric or children’s paracetamol, these will be going behind the counter.

Secondly, there will be limited supply amounts that are being provided.

And thirdly, there will be a requirement for evidence of diagnosis in the case of Ventolin to ensure that those supplies are managed appropriately.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:

So you need a doctor's certificate?

GREG HUNT:

Not necessarily a doctor's certificate.

If there's a history of evidence, we don't want to stop people with immediate asthma requirements.

If they've had a relationship, it will be up to the pharmacist to conduct that consultation.

We don't want to stop people with immediate needs being able to access those immediate needs.

But these three changes which are being implemented as of this afternoon – behind the counter, one month's supply, and a diagnosis or evidence where the pharmacist will have the discretion to make his or her decision – are designed to protect the medicines for those that genuinely need them.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:

Well, that is welcome and that is definitely moves that we need to see, because we are seeing with the other non-essential items, things like hand sanitiser and toilet paper, even though the supermarkets have imposed limits on those items, the shelves are still bare.

GREG HUNT:

Well, the advice that I have here- and I'll read it to you: medicines, suppliers or sponsors, the pharmaceutical companies, report that they do not anticipate widespread national level medicine shortages resulting from the impact of COVID-19 on medicines, manufacturing or logistics.

That is not necessarily the case for every single item where some might be coming from overseas, but that is the clear express advice.

And so the first point of reassurance for everybody is whilst there might be stocking issues in a particular pharmacy or a particular supermarket, there are strong supply lines in Australia.

So hoarding, as the Prime Minister said, is not just un-Australian, it's also counterproductive.

So we've seen magnificent support from many Australians for others, but for those who are involved in panic buying:

A), stop it, but B) there’s no need.

We have strong supply lines and that've been reconfirmed in this note with those express words from the manufacturer.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:

So that news just through from the Minister, those changes will be brought into effect from this afternoon.

Will that be in place effective immediately?

GREG HUNT:

The pharmacists around the country are being notified and then they will begin to do that.

Some may take a few more hours to get the messages, they’re busy.

But that is being sent out immediately as you and I speak.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:

Important change and that's good for you to bring us- to us here on the show today.

And just on the issue of children's Panadol too, we know how essential that is for reducing fevers in kids.

And if we don't reduce the shortages and ensure that people have stock, we're going to put more pressure on the health system, aren't we, because kids will be forced to go to emergency departments if they can't get children's Panadol.

GREG HUNT:

That's right. It’s common sense, it's good neighbourliness.

If you take two packets and you only need one, then it's your neighbour, it's your cousin, it's your friend, it's the schoolmates of your own kids that won't have access.

And if they do it then it'll be your family.

So this is the moment to find our best selves, and at the same time as we're providing the very strong decisions with regards to protecting families and saving lives through measures to control the access to medicines on an appropriate basis through our pharmacies.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:

And clarify for me Ventolin, because I'm hearing that people have been stockpiling Ventolin, people who don't need it, because they falsely believe- incorrectly believe that if they get coronavirus – and they don't have asthma, they don't have any issues with their respiratory system or respiratory problems – that they think that the Ventolin will actually help them out.

GREG HUNT:

There's no evidence that that's the case, and I've not been made aware of any, and I get daily briefings.

Most importantly, Ventolin’s for people with asthma or related respiratory conditions, and it’s a medicine with a purpose to protect people who are vulnerable.

Please do not take from the vulnerable.

That is something that is so beyond the spirit of who we are.

And I appeal out of a sense of common good, but with a very clear message that these new rules will now be put in place to protect against those few who are doing the wrong against the many.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:

Important advice, and we thank you for bringing it to us here on the show. Minister, thank you again.

GREG HUNT:

Thanks very much.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:

The Health Minister, Greg Hunt there.

Ministers: