Minister Butler doorstop in Adelaide - 11 December 2022

Read the transcript for Minister Butler's doorstop on extending funding for the Childhood Dental Benefits Scheme, organ transplants, and COVID.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: Thanks for coming out to this great clinical at The Parks operated by the South Australian Dental Service and a big shout out to Jason who was brave enough to put himself in the chair and got a big thumbs up from the dental technicians here at SADS. He's got a great set of teeth, and a great future as a basketballer.

Looking after our children's teeth is one of the best things we can do to set them up for a long healthy life. One of the great Labor Medicare legacies is the Childhood Dental Benefits Scheme that was set up about a decade ago, after we saw some really troubling data on the level of childhood tooth decay. We saw that about 40 per cent of five-year-olds at the time had tooth decay in their baby teeth, as many as 60 per cent of nine-year-olds when they had baby teeth had tooth decay, and as many as 62 per cent of 14-year-olds had tooth decay in their adult teeth as well. There was a real issue particularly for lower and middle income families accessing quality dental services and that's why we set up the Childhood Dental Benefit Scheme. That scheme gives low to middle income families on Family Tax Benefit A access to more than $1,000 worth of dental services over two years. Now the vast bulk of those services are provided by private providers represented here today by Angelo from the Australian Dental Association, but state services like this one also play a critical role. Of the more than 3.3 million children and teenagers who've received services through this scheme over the last eight years, about one in three of those have been delivered by a state clinic like this one, or school dental clinics that are also supported by this scheme.

I've been told by the South Australian dental scheme that before COVID, and there has been a bit of a drop off in these services during COVID, but before COVID, the childhood dental benefit scheme was worth about $15 or $16 million just for the South Australian service every year to be able to provide check-ups and fillings and for kids like Jason. This is a really critical service and access to the scheme was due to expire at the end of this month. At the end of this month, state clinics, school clinics would not have been able to access this fantastic service from the Federal Medicare scheme. I'm really pleased to announce that we are extending access for state services like the South Australian dental service for another four years. And that will give them the funding certainty to be able to continue to operate fantastic community clinics like the one here at The Parks and school clinics right through Australia that are giving our children the best start in life by making sure that they have healthy teeth.

STUART MARSHALL, CHIEF DENTAL OFFICER SA DENTAL SERVICE: I just want to second what the Minister said there. The CDBS funding is critical for the care and services that we provide children not just in South Australia, but across Australia as a whole. Early access to dental care for young children is super important. We like to catch things early and put prevention strategies in place because early childhood good oral health is a predictor of good oral health in adults. We’re fully aware that poor oral health has linked to many other chronic diseases, such as Alzheimer's, diabetes, stroke, and cardiovascular disease risk. And what this allows is children from low and middle income families to come and access care service for the country with the need, not just check-ups, but fillings and extractions when needed, but also preventive services. We've also seen in the last two years as a result, COVID is around about 30 per cent reduction of people coming to the dentist. So we're really worried that there are families and children out there who are not accessing care and services. So it's really important that families are aware that CDBS is out there, and to access that money so they can get care for their children.
 
JOURNALIST: Have you got a bit of a cautionary tale for us in terms of what your mouth could look like as an adult if you don't get that care?

MARSHALL: Yeah, for adults it has a significant impact in terms of your confidence, social skills, and that will impact you throughout life. So if you grew up, and you have poor oral health and poor oral hygiene growing up, and then as an adult once you start going out in the real world working then is it's much harder to get on in society. The first thing that people always see is someone’s smile and if you don't have a great smile that can impact you, in your day to day  life.

JOURNALIST: We talked about the drop off during the pandemic but do we also seen a decrease in these types of services because of economic pressure as well?

MARSHALL: I think it's difficult to say. I think the message around COVID has been such a good message around preventing and stopping the spread of COVID. Unfortunately, it's that kind of second order impact that people have to rebuilt to get back into normal things that are important. It's super important for people to come back, not just for dental care but for medical care. We've probably seen in lots of areas of health, where preventive checks for diabetes, high blood pressure events, follow up post cancer treatment. We've seen a lot of that across health that people are not going out and visiting their medical practitioners for preventative care and checks.

JOURNALIST: Obviously, there's been some lock downs in some states, but is it because people can't actually get to the dentist? Or is it because they've been scared to go to the dentist?

MARSHALL: I think it’s probably a little bit of both, in terms of, you know, probably somewhere where the impacts been broad in terms of lockdowns, like maybe New South Wales, Victoria, the impact on, you know, being able to get out and about. But it's probably a combination of factors. There’s probably a little bit of fear still out there and it's important for us as healthcare providers, not just the dental sector, but more broadly, to stress it is safe to come back to health care services, and really important people do.

JOURNALIST: Does that $1,000 or so dollars over that two years, does that really cover what a typical child needs?

MARSHALL: Absolutely. For most children, that's more than enough funding for them to get all the care that they need in terms of examinations, prevention and treatment. And then for us at the SA Dental Service, children without the money can still come and see us and we'll continue to treat them for free.

JOURNALIST: How easy is it to get in with your dentist? I know there are some public areas where the waiting lists have blown out 1, 2, 3 years. So can people who actually use this money actually getting to see someone?

MARSHALL: What we'd say to your parents, carers is to call your local public dental service or local private provider, and access to care that way. It might not be your local clinic but if you can travel to your next school or service clinic and then we'll get you in. And we always triage patients as well. So if someone has got an infected tooth, or swelling, or infection we will triage them and get them seen probably the same day or the next day for care.

BUTLER: Just by way of introduction to Angelo, to take up that question these services are free. We provide these vouchers, which as you've heard will cover the oral health needs of children for regular check-ups over the two year periods and any treatment they need. And they're provided because of the Commonwealth funding free of charge through state clinics like this. But as I said, the majority of services are provided by private dental services represented here today by Angelo. And it's really important to say that over 95 per cent of services under this scheme are bulk billed. So we know households are under enormous pressure financially right now but these services are free of charge, and they're overwhelmingly bulk billed if you go to a private dentist and you're eligible for the Childhood Dental Benefits Scheme.

DR ANGELO PAPAGEORGIOU, AUSTRALIAN DENTAL ASSOCIATION: Thank you Minister. I would just like to extend and welcome the support on behalf of the ADA for the extension of Childhood Dental Benefits Scheme. For those families who otherwise cannot afford dental checks, it's a really important opportunity to get their children's teeth checked, it means they will be able to smile with a healthy smile, a comfortable smile without oral health issues.

This scheme will allow for improved access to dental care. It means early assessments, it means prompt diagnosis, it means early treatment, which is important to limit the health outcomes of these children, who often won't get any attention. I urge all parents, carers, guardians who have children who are eligible for the scheme to take up the offer, and the opportunity. 2023 is around the corner, I think it's important that we encourage all parents that are guardians and families to take their child to the dentist would it be the public sector, through SA Dental, or of course, the private sector, where practitioners have participated in a scheme for many, many years now. And I commend the Government for working with the profession in ensuring this continues of the death of those children most in need.

JOURNALIST: Minister, obviously I did allude to earlier that there are some quite big public waiting lists in some states. What's being done to address that?

BUTLER: We are talking with state health ministers about public dental service. We've extended Commonwealth funding. Only very recently I wrote to state health ministers to assure them that the Commonwealth, under the Albanese Government, would continue to fund public adult dental services. Obviously, this is quite a different service. We've extended this for four years for kids. But health ministers, actually led by the South Australian government, are looking at long term dental reform arrangements because clearly there is a need out there in the community.

JOURNALIST: There claims from the Opposition that the energy price relief plan will fail in the long term? What's the Government's response to that?

BUTLER: The Energy Minister Chris Bowen has been out this morning responding to those questions. I don't intend to add to that. That's his portfolio. We're very pleased that an agreement was able to be reached by all governments, state and territory, obviously the Commonwealth Government, to respond to this extraordinary energy crisis that's not just afflicting Australia, but right around the world as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

JOURNALIST: Minister during the pandemic, lifesaving paediatric heart transplants were being performed successfully in New South Wales. There's a review of nationally funded centres underway. Do you have an update on where that review is at?

BUTLER: No, I've read the story out of Sydney, obviously, you know, very troubling story. But there's been a review underway for some time to gauge the extent to which transplant services, not the organ donation particularly, but the transplant services are able to be provided equitably across the country. And I'll be seeking some further advice about where that review is up to in light of the story out of Sydney.

JOURNALIST: Do you have any idea whether it's complete?

BUTLER: One stage of the review, as I understand it was complete, but I think the second stage is still underway.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that funding can be shared between states in the future so that those facilities and those services are more widely available?

BUTLER: This is a highly specialised service, obviously, but we want to see it available in as many locations as possible. The Commonwealth obviously, is a big funder of organ donation services. I was involved in the establishment of that authority more than a decade ago and we've seen organ donation rates increase very substantially as a result of that investment from the last Labour government. But at the end of the day, you need good transplant services, which overwhelmingly are delivered by state hospital schemes. Those state hospitals have to ensure and talk across state boundaries to ensure that those services are available when and where people need it.

JOURNALIST: On the current COVID Wave, how concerned you are about increasing numbers, and particularly under reporting?

BUTLER: Pretty much every state I think has now has lifted the mandatory reporting requirement for rapid antigen tests. So I think everyone understands that the official reports of COVID numbers understate the real prevalence of COVID in the community. Though, having said that, there are some reliable indicators, for example, aged care, hospital staff furloughs and things like that, that do indicate that the latest data we received on Friday show that there is some flattening of the curve that we're seeing over the last seven days or so. We're still monitoring this very closely. We're particularly concerned to ensure that vulnerable Australians who would be at risk of severe disease or worse so older Australians, people who are immunocompromised, people in aged care facilities and such like are protected as much as possible.

JOURNALIST: Were are discussions in terms of future boosters?

BUTLER: The Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, which people will now know as ATAGI, provided me with advice a couple of weeks ago that they did not intend to recommend a fifth dose or a third booster dose right now, but they would coming back to that issue very early in 2023.Thanks everyone.

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