Minister Butler doorstop in Melbourne - 29 September 2022

Read the transcript of Minister Butler's doorstop on Medical Research Future Fund; The Alfred Hospital, ECMO Precise project; Monash University; hospital funding caps; World Heart Day 2022.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: Can I thank Stephen, Tanya and their team up at the Alfred ICU for the tour of the biggest, I think, ICU in Australia. It's an extraordinary operation. Having visited a number of intensive care units, the work that is done every day and in particularly, the work that it's done over the last two and a half years is just extraordinary. Thank you to all the staff. I know just how hard the last two and a half years has been, and frankly, how hard they work every single day.  

I'm delighted to be here this morning with my colleagues, Michelle Ananda-Rajah, who worked here as infectious disease physician for 13 years and is feeling a bit nostalgic being back here today. We're going to drag her back to the parliament, make her resist the temptation to come back to the fantastic clinical work she did for so many years, including during COVID. And also my mate Josh Burns, who is the local member for the area.  

Today is World Heart Day and I want to say a few words about cardiovascular disease before I talk about the wonderful projects we’re funding here. We've seen enormous advances in cardiovascular disease over the last several decades, in part because we've been able to drive down the rates of smoking. When I was born, about three quarters of every adult male in Australia smoked, we've been able to drive that down to about 10 per cent.  

We've also seen wonderful advances in medicine, particularly stents to drive down cholesterol and other things that reduce the risk factors for heart disease. And thirdly, the advance of new treatments, wonderful new treatments for people with moderate cardiac disease, but also for those who are the sickest of the sick in intensive care units. That's particularly what we've been talking about today.  

Although we have reduced cardiovascular disease across the world over the last several decades it is still a very big challenge in Australia. Every day more than 1,000 Australians are admitted to hospital with cardiac issues, including many of them here. The Alfred is one of only two trauma hospitals servicing a population of 7 million people in Victoria, it's also the leading academic hospitals in Australia. It does an extraordinary job, not just to care for Victorians each and every day, but to contribute to our learning, our understanding of some of these health challenges to make sure that we get better and better. 

On World Heart Day, I'm excited to announce $156 million dollars in new projects through the Medical Research Future Fund across a whole range of different disciplines. 

It's particularly important to say that $33 million of that are going into 41 different cardiac projects across the country, to continue to drive the improvements that we have seen over the last four or five decades.  

And one of those projects is the Precise Project that is being led by the Alfred Hospital with another 31 hospitals across the country, and by Monash University, who has a substantial presence here at the Alfred. This study is going to build on some of the extraordinary work being done on ECMO machines over the last several years. It is quite extraordinary. I just saw the operation up at the ICU today. These machines step in when someone has heart failure to do what the heart does, to pump blood and oxygen outflow, as well when the lungs fail. And we've seen them not only support the super, super sick, in extreme cardiac events, they played an extraordinary role, particularly led by the Alfred here during COVID, when people’s lungs were dramatically affected by that virus.  

One of the things this study will do is to understand better which patients are going to respond best to the use of an ECMO machine through a biomarker study been led by the Alfred and Monash coalition, and a whole range of other universities and hospitals around the country. I want to congratulate the team for their application to the MRFF and their success in a highly competitive process in getting this grant.  

Lastly, can I just say a few words about this precinct. I was here a couple of weeks ago announcing some other research funding. I had responsibilities with the NHMRC 10 or so years ago, and back then more than 40 per cent of all NHMRC grants were awarded to Victorian projects, a state that represents about a quarter of the nation's population. I think that percentage has actually gone up in the decade that I've been away from this portfolio, and that just goes to show the quality and the breadth of health and medical research out here in Victoria. It really is one of the leading jurisdictions on the planet for high quality medical research.  

And the thing about that is it's not just research for its own sake. It’s not just blue-sky research, as important as that sometimes can be. This precinct is one of the great research precincts not just in Australia, but in the world. The co-location of a great hospital, The Alfred, the leading academic hospital in the country, with Monash and other universities in this precinct – I know Deakin’s here, La Trobe’s here as well, and two great medical research institutes in the Baker and the Burnet. It continues as an engine room of continuous improvement, not just in our understanding about how the human body works and how it responds to treatment, but the translation of that almost immediately, to better clinical practice. That's always the challenge with health and medical research, not just the discovery of new ideas, but the translation of those new ideas into better further clinical practice and in the hospital ward. 

There is no better place than this precinct in Australia for the demonstration of what that does for Australian patients, and the reward that gives for the investment by taxpayers in projects like this. So, thank you very much again to the team for showing us through the ICU and for the work that you do.  

JOURNALIST: States are calling on the Federal Government at National Cabinet to extend the share of public hospital costs, and for that 6.5 per cent cap to be removed. Is that something the federal government is considering? 

BUTLER: The meeting tomorrow is obviously a meeting between the Prime Minister, premiers and chief ministers, so I'll leave the description of the agenda to them. But I'll say this about hospital funding. First of all, when we came to government, the extended hospital supports that had been put in place for COVID activity were due to expire tomorrow. At the first meeting the new Prime Minister had with his premier and chief minister colleagues, we decided to invest another $760 million in extending those additional COVID supports to state hospital systems until the end of the year. That was warmly welcomed by the state premiers and chief ministers at the time, indicating in their words, a new level of cooperation and constructive engagement between the Commonwealth and the states.  
JOURNALIST: In your comments yesterday, you mentioned the 6.5 per cent caps were likely to be breached this year based on your advice. Is that the case? 

BUTLER: That cap has been in place for many years, both the states and the territories signed on to an agreement with the former government a couple of years ago that that runs until 2025. I was yesterday reflecting the advice that I've received which is there is not a prospect, as I understand it, of the cap being breached this year. So instead, we're focused on things that are really going to make a difference in the health system, like boosting primary care, strengthening Medicare, fixing the aged care crisis. That is the best thing the Commonwealth can do right now to relieve pressure on hospitals – is to strengthen the supports for people's health outside of the hospital system. Later today, I'll be meeting again with our Strengthening Medicare Taskforce that brings together doctors' groups, nursing groups, patient groups and others to find new ways of strengthening a Medicare system that frankly has been cut and neglected over the last decade. 

JOURNALIST: Is it reasonable though to have that cap for hospitals to remain productive as you described it during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic? 

BUTLER: The once-in-a-lifetime pandemic is precisely why we extended COVID funding arrangements, which were due to expire tomorrow, until the end of the year. Those additional arrangements that provide supports for obviously the treatment of COVID patients in hospitals, but a whole range of other costs state hospital systems incur around infection control, PPE - protective equipment and suchlike, they are not subject to that cap, and they are extended until the end of the year. So, they are not encompassing those costs which understandably have increased quite dramatically over the last couple of years, they are not encompassed by the 6.5 per cent growth cap that covers other hospital operations, non-COVID operations. 

Thanks everyone. 

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