Minister for Health and Aged Care – press conference – 19 June 2024

Read the transcript from Minister Butler and Minister Bowen's press conference about Medicare Urgent Care Clinics for Fairfield and Liverpool.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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General public

FORHEALTH NSW AND ACT DIRECTOR, SIMON TAYLOR-CROSS: Simon Taylor-Cross Director Medical Centres ForHealth. Good morning everybody and welcome to the Fairfield Chase Medical and Dental Centre. We're very excited today to hear an announcement from the Minister. We have been very supportive to the Urgent Care Clinics rollout across Australia. Most recently, we’ve seen great successes close by Wakefield Urgent Care Clinic and an Urgent Care Clinic down in Maroubra. I’ll now hand over to the Minister for today’s briefing.
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: Thanks very much, Simon. It's great to be here in Fairfield with my friend and colleague Chris Bowen, Minister for Climate Change and Energy, a ferocious advocate for this terrific community around Fairfield. Last year we opened 58 Urgent Care Clinics and already those clinics have seen more than 450,000 patients. They're open seven days a week, extended hours, they're available for walk-in patients, so you don't need to make an appointment, and importantly, they are fully bulk billed, so every service is delivered completely free of charge. We designed these clinics not only to deliver top-quality urgent care when people need it, where they need it, in their own community, but importantly also to take pressure off our overwhelmed public hospitals, and we know that that is exactly what is happening.
Notably about one in 3 patients going through these Urgent Care Clinics are under the age of 15. They are parents taking their kids who get a very serious illness overnight, or get injured on the sport field, or fall off their skateboard. They need urgent care, they need care within a matter of hours, but not necessarily the fully equipped hospital emergency department where they might wait several hours to be seen, and that's why this service is operating just so effectively. Now in December, the Prime Minister and the premiers reached a very significant agreement on the future of health reform and as part of that, our Government committed $1.2 billion in immediate measures to strengthen Medicare. Part of that money will be spent on an additional 29 Urgent Care Clinics to be opened across the country on top of the 58 that we opened last year.
We've had a terrific process engaging with state governments including the government here in New South Wales and terrific Health Minister Ryan Park, to understand where they want these Urgent Care Clinics to be located. Obviously, they've got a very strong eye on taking pressure off their hospital system. Hospital systems, not just across Australia, but right over the world right now are still dealing with the legacy of COVID. Here in Australia, we're dealing with the winter respiratory illness increase as well, in flu and COVID and RSV. So I know Minister Park, like all of his colleagues across the country, are really keen to see more of these clinics opened so that people are getting the urgent care that they need when and where they need it but also taking pressure off their particularly busy hospitals. The Minister Ryan Park has said to us Fairfield Hospital is one that needs some support from an Urgent Care Clinic in this area. So I'm delighted to announce that we will be commissioning a new Urgent Care Clinic in the area around the Fairfield Hospital. That will be a competitive process undertaken by the South Western Sydney Primary Health Network, or the PHN, which has been undertaking these competitive tenders in this part of Sydney for us over the last 12 to 18 months.
This is something that Chris Bowen has very strongly argued for. He knows that his community needs a government that is committed to strengthening Medicare, tripling bulk billing incentives, delivering cheaper medicines, but importantly, as well, opening these really important Urgent Care Clinics that will deliver fully bulk billing services over extended hours, 7 days a week. So I'm really looking forward to this new clinic. I want to say also that the New South Wales Government has agreed to transfer the management of the urgent care service that they opened a couple of years ago in the Liverpool region to take pressure off to Liverpool Hospital, to the Commonwealth as part of our Urgent Care Clinic network as well. So I make that announcement that we’ll be assuming responsibility for that service, as well, close to this region. I might hand over to Chris Bowen now.
MINISTER FOR CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY, CHRIS BOWEN: Well, thanks, Mark. It's always a pleasure to welcome a fellow Minister to our community, but it's a particular pleasure when it comes with such good news. It's a great day for Fairfield today. Now, Fairfield over the last 10 years of previous government, both federal and state, has been underinvested in, when it comes to health. And that is changing, and it changes today. So this is a very important announcement for Fairfield. I’m absolutely delighted with this announcement. I confess I have been hassling Mark about it, but Mark has shown real leadership in listening to the concerns of this community. We know that Fairfield Hospital is under pressure, and we know that 53% of the emergency department presentations of people in hospital are certainly urgent, but might not be emergencies. Exactly the sort of thing that an Urgent Care Clinic can cater for. So this is great news for the convenience of our local community.
Living here, and having raised a family here, I know that there are times on the weekend or after hours, unexpectedly, you've got to go and find some medical help and get some stitches or something done, which is, as I said, not necessarily an emergency, but that is certainly urgent. We've been missing out here in Fairfield, and that stops today. I'm absolutely delighted with this announcement, I want to thank Mark, for making this commitment to our community. Clinics just like this will be able to put a bid in to provide this service, there’ll be a process to determine, and I’m delighted if it will be open by the end of this year. This complements the Minn’s Labor State Government’s investment in the Fairfield Hospital, the refurbishment of the Fairfield Hospital. It means that this, and other announcements, including the Minn’s Government's commitment to Fairfield Hospital means that our health services here in Fairfield are on the up, are on the improve. It's way beyond time. Here in Fairfield, where we've made home to so many new arrivals to our country, so many refugees finding their way to a new country who have sometimes difficulty navigating our health system, having an Urgent Care Clinic in Fairfield will make a big difference. I'm absolutely delighted that the Albanese Government is able to deliver this. It’s a good day to day, but there'll be an even better day when we come back and open the new Urgent Care Clinic, thank you.
JOURNALIST: Minister Butler, GPs in the area have been on the decline consistently. Although this is an important step, isn’t it an attempt to treat the symptoms and not the cause, which is putting more money in Medicare and other incentives that would make people want to be GPs here?
BUTLER: We've had a three-point plan to strengthen Medicare since we came to Government. Those points are tripling the bulk billing incentive, we delivered the biggest investment in bulk billing in last year's Budget, and already that’s seen hundreds and hundreds of thousands of additional free visits to the doctor just since November, when those new incentives took effect. The second part of our plan has been to make medicines cheaper. We know that's good for the hip pocket, particularly in a cost-of-living period like the one we're facing now. But it's also good for people's health because it means they can take the medicines that doctors have told them are important for their health. But the third element is these Urgent Care Clinics, this is a gap in Australia's otherwise terrific healthcare system. These clinics are very common in other countries we usually compare ourselves to. So rolling out as many of these as quickly as we can, not only delivers care to people in the community when and where they need it, but it is taking that pressure off our public hospital system. More broadly though, our Government in Health has no higher priority than rebuilding general practice after a decade of cuts and neglect. We know there's more to do. But the Budget, particularly last year, contained the biggest investment in decades for general practice. We know there's more work to implement a lot of those investments, we're working closely with the College of General Practitioners, and the AMA, and others because we know general practice is the spine, is the absolute centrepiece, of a well-functioning health care system.
JOURNALIST: The people who walk through the doors of the clinics, what will they be presenting with and how many people say a week, might visit it?
BUTLER: We know that on average, the centres are seeing in the order of 300 patients a week. That varies depending on where the service is, some are a little busier, some of the regional communities, a little less than that. But generally, as I said, one in 3 of those clinics' patients are young people, experiencing the sort of urgent care needs that Chris talked about. But parents are not wanting to go and spend 8 or 10 hours potentially in an emergency department. So they get seen very quickly, they’re fixed up very quickly, they’re then referred to their usual GP for a follow up, it works terrifically well. These services also have diagnostic imaging, X rays, potentially other imaging services as well, pathology services. There's a wide range of services that wrap around the Urgent Care Clinics. One in 3 of these services are delivered on the weekend, you know, when people simply can't get into their usual GP, by and large. Again, more than half of the patients that are coming through these clinics are saying if the clinic wasn't available, they'd go to the local emergency department, placing even more pressure on the hospital system that we know is already fielding a lot.
JOURNALIST: These clinics are opening in the most diverse areas in our country. Doctors are routinely telling you the language barriers are causing significant notable log jams. What multilingual services will be available to help them provide healthcare?
BUTLER: I'm sure the services that are going to bid into this process, as a competitive tender, will bid into the process understanding community that they’re there to serve. That will be different across different parts of Australia, but we are seeing these services pop up through that tender process in a range of diverse communities. And that's what we wanted. This as a new model of care for Australia., we want it to be evaluated, so we know whether there are some tweaks that need to happen over the coming years to really embed this as a core part of Australia's terrific health care system. But we deliberately, particularly in the initial range of 58 clinics tried to make sure we got as much diversity regionally, geographically, socio-economically as we could possibly get to ensure that the evaluation process is going to be robust.
JOURNALIST: How many doctors will staff a clinic like this?
BUTLER: Again, that will be determined based on –
BUTLER: Ballpark, these clinics are generally operating with one, sometimes 2 doctors focused specifically on the urgent care presentations with nurse support and sometimes other support as well. But it's important to say, this is not a 9 to 5, 5 days a week operation. They operate extended hours, and they are all required to be open 7 days a week. You know they were open on Christmas Day last year. This is a very, very broad service to local communities.
JOURNALIST: Minister Bowen, if you don't mind my asking, Mr Dutton has announced his nuclear policy today, can I get your thoughts on it?  
BOWEN: I'm heading to the city after this to hold a broader press conference on the opposition's so-called announcement. It's not really an announcement. We know that Mr Dutton wants to slow down the rollout of renewables and he wants to introduce the most expensive form of energy that's slow to build. But today, we've seen no costs, we’ve seen no gigawatts, we've seen no detail. This is a joke, but it's a serious joke, because it threatens our transition, but I’ll say more about that in a couple of hours in the city.
JOURNALIST: Adriaan, what do you think of this announcement? Do you think clinics like this will make a difference for these communities?
DR ADRIAAN NEL, FORHEALTH CLINICAL DIRECTOR: We know these type of clinics already make a big difference in Sydney and the wider area. For this area in specific, of course, it will make a massive difference. It does take away a lot of pressure from the hospitals, in those cases where you need to be seen soon enough, but you shouldn’t be clogging the hospital system.
JOURNALIST: What are the needs these communities have that we could look into?
DR NEL: Specific needs for these communities? Like you said, diverse group of doctors, diverse group of service delivery. You need to have people that are dedicated and compassionate about delivering care for these communities, and to play a role in just promoting health and - especially in communities with a lot refugees – to help them to become part of the Australian system, and to understand what it is, so guidance in that sense as well.
JOURNALIST: Do you think we have enough doctors and practitioners available?
DR NEL: We are working on recruiting doctors and, in the urgent care space as well, there's a lot of incentives and ways of making it quite good to work in the setting and also to further your professional scope of practice. So many of the doctors are GPs, well all them are actually GPs, and they often would like to just improve a little bit their scope of practice and be able to work in this setting. So I think it is quite attractive for many doctors to just participate in this role as well.
JOURNALIST: I want to thank you all for answering my questions.
BUTLER: Thank you so much.

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