This content relates to a former minister

Interview with Robbie Buck, ABC Breakfast Sydney

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's interview on ABC Breakfast Sydney regarding first dedicated Medicare item for eating disorders, pill testing and My Health Record.

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

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Well there was a big announcement over the weekend to do with eating disorders in Australia and funding to try and help those who are suffering from eating disorders.

The federal government’s just announced that for the first time Australians with severe eating disorders will now be able to access a comprehensive treatment plan under Medicare.

So it means that you’ll be access up to 40 psychological services and 20 dietetic services each year, under Medicare from 1 November next year. Greg Hunt is the Federal Health Minister and joins us this morning. Good morning to you.


Good morning Robbie and good morning Wendy.




Tell us the situation as it is at the moment for people unlucky enough to be facing an eating disorder like that, what have been the options?


So until now — and I can’t speak for why it was in the past, it was what I saw when I came in — people with eating disorders, and there up to a million Australians with different types of eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, purging, were able to access general psychological services which was 10 a year for psychological and 5 for dietetic or dieticians.

There had not been a formal Medicare item or service for people with eating disorders and we know they can be absolutely, physically, emotionally and mentally agonising, not just for the sufferer but for their families.

So we asked the Medicare Task Force, which is an independent body to do a really, (inaudible) review and they came back and recommended that there should be a radical individual Medicare plan and that means that people will have up to 60 services a year.

And it’s recognition, it’s hope and it’s that support. And those 60 services are, exactly as you say, 40 for psychological services and 20 for working with the dieticians, the experts on helping people to recover.


As I read the stats on this, the rates of mortality for those with eating disorders are higher than for most other psychiatric disorders. Is that as you understand it as well Minister?


Sadly that is absolutely correct. And when I came in, obviously like virtually everybody who’s listening today and yourselves, knew many people and many families that had been affected by it and made more enquiries about the eating disorders.

And asked very specifically — well, I think it’s time that we make a major step on this front.

We included eating disorders in the Million Minds Mental Health mission, a 10 year mission to help an additional million people have mental health support as part of research and trials, but what we really wanted to do was to make these services available to every single Australian and family that would need it wherever the doctors determined that this was the right path and we’ve been fortunate to do that.

And I know Scott Morrison was there yesterday, but he’d been on the journey the whole way; he was deeply moved. We had a mum, Fiona Ryan who told of the loss of her daughter Tess and just the heartbreak and I think it wasn’t...there wasn’t a single person who was not moved to tears in the room.

And this is the reality of it and this is why we have to offer people real hope and services going forward.


What are our figures like at the moment? Are we improving when it comes to dealing with these kinds of disorders or has there been a tide against us in recent years?


No, there has been a tide. What has happened is that this is very much a modern phenomenon.

It’s been driven in part by body image and images we see across the media and in advertising.

We were working through this recently that there’s been a dramatic increase not just in diagnosis, as has been the case with some mental health conditions, but in terms of the actual underlying frequency or the prevalence.

And it’s something that wasn’t common 40 or 50 years ago, it was certainly known but it’s become an increasing tragedy.

So, it’s a huge national challenge and as parents — I’m the father of a 13-and-a-half-year-old girl and so, intensely we’re at least...fortunately she’s in a very good position but we’re all aware that we have to be so supportive and careful with our kids.

And there can be many triggers but it needs the support in the home, in the school, in the community and through the medical community. And that’s what we’re trying to do.


On another matter, Minister, we’ve just been talking this morning on pill testing at music festivals. What’s your view?


The advice that I have is there are no safe levels of illicit drugs. And the reason they’re illicit is because they’re not safe.

And I think that’s the very important thing to understand, that these drugs are not available on the PBS and they’re not available on the approval of what’s called the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which is the safety and quality controller, because they’re not safe. And so there are no safe levels is the very clear.


What about marijuana, for instance? I mean, that’s legalised in many places around the world.


I think what we’re seeing with marijuana is increasing evidence of impacts in terms of the psychotic effects, the mental health effects.

It’s one of those ones where I know we have a different position than some jurisdictions — and I respect their rights — but I’m simply following the medical advice.

And again that is actually a matter for individual states and territories, the legalisation. But at the federal level, our position has been that our advice is there are no safe levels. And I understand individuals will have different views and some other jurisdictions, states or otherwise have had different views.


Okay. Greg Hunt is with us this morning, the Federal Health Minister, and we’re talking about this, well, this big funding boost to tackle eating disorders in Australia.

I guess the last time you were on the show, Minister, of course, it was to do with the My Health Record and you were putting the pitch forward that Australians should sign up for the My Health Record, for the electronic system.

Of course, since we spoke there has been a lot more discussion about it and indeed you have extended the My Health Record opt-out period. I guess where do you sit with it at the moment, what’s your message to Australians when it comes to that? And considering you have extended it, does that mean that there have been problems with it?


Well, at this stage we continue to have a tremendous operation of it.

And what that means is that we’ve got over 6 million Australians, we’ve had far fewer people opt-out than we had expected. But it’s something you can opt-in or opt-out of at any time in your life, you can opt-in or opt-out at any time in your life.

So, I think it’s important to provide that option and control to everyone. The critical thing going forwards is that this is effectively like your personal record, for the first time you’ll be able to access your own records.

Until now they’ve been kept within the GP’s filing cabinet or on the GP’s computer and people haven’t had the ability to access their own record and this is ultimately about giving anybody control over their own health.

And I think that’s the critical thing. It’s not something which has been available until now, well, until recently, and now it’s something that will be available to every Australian to own and control their own health records.


Alright. Well, we’ll leave it there. Thank you very much for your time this morning.


Take care. Cheers.

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