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Interview with Leon Byner on 5AA about coronavirus (COVID-19)

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's interview with Leon Byner on 5AA about coronavirus (COVID-19).

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

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So let's talk to the Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt. Greg, thanks for coming on today.


Pleasure. Good morning, Leon.


Now look, you've - I’ve got to say this - you have been terribly supportive of the health and wellbeing of Australians.

You put record numbers of drugs and all sorts of other good products that help people run their lives better on the PBS, you've been giving a lot of funding to our state. And it's clear, even our Auditor-General yesterday suggested that the federal state agreements that we have with these funding arrangements, we're not even meeting them.

What are you going to do about it?


We're working very constructively with South Australia and the deal we struck with the Premier and the Health Minister, Stephen Wade will put $8 billion into South Australian hospitals over the next five years. So it's a new five-year agreement, and that's an additional $1.2 billion.

That means more doctors, more nurses, more services, more support for patients. So we're doing that. They then have, equally, responsibilities to meet the recording and accounting for those as part of the hospital reform agreement, there's a body, the Independent Hospitals Pricing Authority, and a regulator that oversees it.

So they're quite transparent processes that hold every state and territory to account. South Australia, I've got to say, has been significantly on the improve.

I know this has been a big thing that the two Stephens are focussed on. They had some, shall we say, very difficult circumstances they inherited but which they've improved significantly.

And I spoke with Stephen Wade only this morning, and he's just laser-like focussed on lifting and lifting those standards in conjunction with the doctors, the nurses and the hospital administrators.


Now, you've just said that all this extra money is going to bring more doctors, more procedures.

Now, let me tell you - you may know this - our Auditor-General yesterday released a report that said 68 extra administrative staff were hired, while there was a cut of 112 nurses. Now, that's not the kind of thing you would expect, is it?


Look, our goal around the country is to enable the states and territories to put in place more doctors and nurses and to see through more procedures. And I know that's absolutely the goal of the South Australian Government.

I won't speak to the specific matters, but if you think of it as an extra $1.2 billion, and $8 billion all up, that's really significant funding and that gives them the opportunity to do these things.

And we know that there were sclerotic elements to the system because of what happened in Oakden, that tragedy which has given rise, I think rightly and importantly, to the federal Aged Care Royal Commission.

But there were some challenges in the system before, they’re being improved and repaired. But as Stephen Wade says to me, it's a big job, more work to do.

We're making progress, but I'm not going to rest until it's at exactly the standard that I and the Premier, as in Stephen Wade and the Premier want to achieve.

LEON BYNER:       

Minister, how concerning is it that one million Australians have sought mental health treatment since the start of COVID-19? And I guess more disturbing, there's been a 30 per cent increase in mental health services in Victoria over the past month. Surely the lockdown in that state is damaging.


I am profoundly concerned about the mental health impacts of COVID. And in particular, we're seeing, unsurprisingly, in Victoria, soaring rates of presentations or requests for help.

We've seen a 31 per cent increase in the number of Medicare funded mental health items this year in September and October, compared to the same period last year in Victoria.

And then if you look at Beyondblue, their support line was 77 per cent higher in Victoria than in the rest of the country on a per capita basis. And that’s really significant. And you see it whether it’s in Lifeline or Kids Helpline also in- a one-third increase in child and youth contacts to community health services for eating disorders.

So the impact of the lockdown, as the World Health Organization has warned, on mental health, is very, very significant. And we have a Commonwealth definition of a rolling average of ten cases as the basis for lifting restrictions and Victoria’s in that situation and they are in a dramatically better place than they were, they have improved but there’s still work to do on their contact tracing.

We’ll continue to support. But right now, we have a profound mental health impact in Victoria as virtually every family you speak with will tell you.


What’s your message to Dan Andrews?


Use the Commonwealth definition, look at New South Wales as the comparable standard. New South Wales had 24 days with a rolling average of above 10 cases and they were able to manage that with significantly lower restrictions.

And for Victoria to have staged restrictions, a limited lifting of restrictions in a COVID safe way, out of where they are, using the New South Wales model, I think is the national approach The Commonwealth standard of a rolling average of 10 cases - they’re now in a better place than that and using the New South Wales model.

So it's not a free for all, it’s careful, staged, COVID safe. But it’s giving people hope, it's giving people freedom and above all else, it's giving them a pathway to all of the things which will help them reduce the mental health impacts that are devastating.


Greg Hunt, 36 per cent of the South Australian population is over 50. You would be aware that last week there was a letter that went out from a health administrator to clinicians suggesting that because of a lack of resources, we should think twice or not treat the elderly who go to hospital who might have more than one thing wrong with them.

Now, the Prime Minister has criticised this resoundingly. I think he was generous in his criticism in saying that he hoped that the letter was just poorly written. But I can tell you, the callers to this program have said that that is what they are perceiving right now.

For those people who are over 50 who are ill, what should they reasonably expect from our public health system, in your view?


Full complete an absolute treatment. That was the standard we set.

When we saw what was happening in Italy and we saw what was happening in Spain and the difficult triaging decisions they had to make in March, we sat, the Prime Minister, myself, the Chief Medical Officer, and we vowed that this should never happen in Australia.

And I'm very strong in my views on this, that that's why we fought to get PPE, why we fought to get test kits, why we fought to get respirators up to make sure that hospital support was there with the public hospitals agreement for COVID, the private hospital agreement for COVID, which has been used widely. And that made sure that we had that capacity.

So we had to fight and contain the virus, which we have done. We had to make sure that the capacity was there, which we had done and it is not the Commonwealth policy that this ever happened.

And the Commonwealth policy and I've spoken with Stephen Wade, who has emphasised this morning to me that it is definitively the state policy that every person, irrespective of age, race, gender, religion, any circumstances, it's the help that they need when they need it. Clear, simple, absolute.

Sorry to be so definitive, but I am passionate about it and it has guided our national COVID response. Everyone who needs it anywhere that they need it, gets the full treatment that they need.

There is no triaging out on the basis of age or anything else. Whatever your clinical needs are, they determine the treatment you get.


Greg Hunt, thank you for coming on today. That's the Federal Health Minister with some very helpful information.

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