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Transcript – Interview with Leon Byner FIVEaa

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt’s radio interview with 5AA in which he discusses aged care, the National Immunisation Program, the PBS and Medicare.

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

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But in the meantime I want to talk about, first of all, the failure of three South Australian Government run aged care facilities.

The reason I think that people are very upset about this is because this is 2 years after the Oakden Inquiry.

Let’s welcome Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt. Greg, thanks for joining us today. What’s your observation?


Good morning Leon.




Surprised but also very clear that these are unacceptable results and this is exactly why not only have we called a federal Royal Commission into Aged Care but we have also put in place already an Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner.

And I’ve spoken with Janet Anderson today, as well as with Stephen Wade who’s the South Australian Minister, and we have the three facilities of Melaleuca, Northgate and Ira Parker.

Northgate, the advice from the Quality and Safety Commissioner is making progress; Melaleuca is taking very important steps forward and there’s more work to be done at Ira Parker. But any breach, any failure is unacceptable.

That’s why we’ve legislated for a new Quality and Safety Commissioner. She is in place, she has a powerful team and Janet Anderson’s (inaudible) to be fearless in seeking out any failure to meet standards.

And these have all been published which is why we know about them because not only have we found them, we’ve published them and we’re enforcing action.


I want to ask you a question that was raised by one of our great community workers – Father Joan around Adelaide and she rang me about this yesterday.

But we’ve also had it raised earlier and that is that she has visited an aged care facility and was told that none of the residents have been immunised yet because the flu hasn’t hit them.

Whose responsibility is it to ensure that the most vulnerable, because we in South Australia - reckon you’d know this well – we’ve been badly hit by this flu, influenza, 37 deaths, mainly over 60.

But the other thing is there’s now, what, 17,000 cases reported. Whose responsibility is it to ensure that the most vulnerable in the community who would be the guests of these facilities, are actually immunised against influenza?


It’s the aged care facilities. So we provide the free immunisation for over 65s under the National Immunisation Program, and there are 7.5 million vaccines that have been made available under that and another 4.5 million to the private market and indeed only yesterday, an extra 400,000 doses were released with another 400,000 to come shortly.

So the vaccines are available under the National Immunisation Program and the facility is the body that has the care and responsibility (inaudible).


Are they obliged to do it?


Vaccination isn’t mandatory but it’s certainly expected as part of the care and standards of a facility.

So I would be surprised – well I am surprised to hear there (inaudible) get the details.


Oh don’t worry.


I’ll share them immediately with the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner.


Can I give Father Joan a contact in your office because I’ll tell you now, she’s not Robinson Crusoe and I think this is so important?

And the only reason I bring this up Greg is that the doctors say they are the people who are the most vulnerable and we don’t know how long this flu’s got to go.

What’s your intel on this? Are we over the worst of it or is there more to come?


No, it is a strong flu this season and so the expectation (inaudible) will continue, and I’m sorry to pass that information on but that’s why we’re encouraging people who haven’t been vaccinated to be vaccinated.

An additional 400,000 doses that arrived on Sunday were cleared by the TGA and released yesterday. And another 400,000 in the coming weeks.

But all up, we’re expecting that there’ll be 12 million people who will be vaccinated this year and so that’s a very, very significant increase.


I’ve just had a message.


12 million to date, but in fact it may grow to 13 million.


I’ve just had a message from the chemists, community pharmacies and yesterday – you’d be aware that the Deputy President of the AMA talked about hundreds of thousands of patients with chest, stomach and blood infections and on cancer transplant treatment have a toxic risk under an antibiotic shortage.

We are told today there is inconstant supply of Bactrim. Pharmacies did get supply in the last two weeks, but the understanding is that many ordered it to restock their dispensaries and it is again out of stock.

So why are we facing these constant shortages of these drugs which are unique and are used when other drugs may not be as effective or have more side-effects?


So what happens of course is there’s a global supply chain. So if there’s a manufacturing problem overseas it can effect supply anywhere around the world.

We’ve put in new legislation so for the first time we know well in advance that- if there’s likely to be a shortage.

That’s come into force here which is why we’ve been aware of that.

But two things – the sponsor, Mylan, which is the company that is delivering them, have increased their production and they’re releasing new volumes this week.

And there’s a second company which we’ve worked with – MedSearch – and they’re going to import and supply an alternative antibiotic product and that should be available within the coming days.

So because you do get a manufacturing problem, whether it’s in Australia or elsewhere, you will have these shortages.

What’s changed in Australia is we’ve got new legislation which makes it mandatory to report any looming shortage with fines of up to $200,000 or court action if they don’t comply and that allows us to take the action that we have taken in each of these cases to ensure that there’s supply of the drug and the alternative.


So how long will it be before people can get Bactrim?


The best advice I have is that we should have new supplies arriving within the incoming days and the alternative within a very short period of time.

So we’ve taken immediate action off the basis of the new legislative standards. Again, designed precisely to protect patients for this sort of event.


Do you know why we have these shortages? Is it a- because the AMA have made a lot of statements that if they’re true, they’ve just said – look, it’s all about money. And they’ve said that there should be a federal summit to guarantee supply and push the non-profit driven development of antibiotics.

What do you think of that?


So the advice I have is that it’s been a manufacturing issue.


Is that right? What does that mean?


So (inaudible) supply chain. It means that where the drug is being developed and produced, they’ve had a problem with the actual manufacturing.

It could be materials, it could be machinery and this does happen and that’s why we’ve, A; got new legislation, B; when we’re informed, we took the immediate action of approaching both the company and the Therapeutic Goods Administration, working with others to make sure that there’s an alternative supply.

And as of yesterday, the advice from the TGA – that there is currently stock available for the alternative brand of the antibiotic product which is making its way to the pharmacies. So we’re getting that distributed as quickly as we can.


Now in terms of adding more medicines to the PBS, you’ve done a lot of that before the election, is there products coming up that you’re adding soon?


Yes, there are new medicines. I’ve recently just, as one of my first acts – my first act was to increase the funding for 187 GP items under Medicare, and in addition to that, I’ve also just signed off on four new medicines that will be available from 1 July, we’re just working with the manufactures to make sure that they’ll have the supply available and then we’ll make the announcement on those in the coming days.

So the work never stops. For me, the great passion, the work of this job is to ensure that we have the medicines available to the public, that we have the mental health support and the new medical research. These are things that will literally save lives and protect lives.


Alright. I’ll leave you with my producers so we can get that information from Father Joan who visited an aged care facility.

And by the way, I spoke to Stephen Wade the other day and he said that it is up to aged care facility to administer the vaccinations. Greg Hunt, thank you for joining us today.

You’ve got some information there which I think you’ll find very helpful and it’s good to know that we’re not going to have to wait months for this particular antibiotic.

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