Minister for Health and Aged Care – press conference – 20 June 2024

Read the transcript from Minister Butler and Assistant Minister McBride about a new Medicare Mental Health Centre opening in northern Adelaide, Medicare Urgent Care Clinics and pressure on hospitals.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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MEMBER FOR SPENCE, MATT BURNELL: I'm Matt Burnell, the federal Member for Spence. Today we start a journey. A journey towards better mental health outcomes here in the northern suburbs. It's fantastic to be joined by the Minister for Health, Mark Butler, the Assistant Minister, Emma McBride, and also the State Health Minister Chris Picton. Today really signifies a really important step in the right direction to ensuring that people in the northern suburbs have access to the services that they need in their most dire time of need. And that's exactly what the Northern Adelaide Medicare Mental Health Centre is going to do. And to speak a little bit more about that I'm going to head over to Minister Mark Butler.
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: Thanks, Matt, and thanks for welcoming us to your community. Matt is such a relentless advocate for better health services along with a range of other services here in the northern suburbs of Adelaide. It's great to be here with him and Chris Picton, my friend and colleague, the state Minister, and Emma McBride, who's doing amazing work as the Assistant Minister in the Albanese Government for Mental Health, among many other things. Thank you to Sonder, for welcoming us here and for your willingness to continue to push the envelope in new innovative services particularly focused on the northern suburbs of Adelaide.
When we came to government, we had a range of challenges. We had a healthcare system that was obviously dealing with the legacy of a once-in-a-century pandemic but also the financial impact of 10 years of cuts and neglect to Medicare, particularly the long, long freeze in the Medicare rebate. We had communities like the northern suburbs of Adelaide that just didn't have enough services to support members of that community, and particularly didn't have affordable services. We had people going without service support, particularly on weekends and after hours. And all of that not just meant that people weren't getting the support that they deserved and that they needed, but it also meant they ended up at hospital emergency departments. So, along with a range of measures to address cost of living and health like cheaper medicines, and tripling the bulk billing incentive in general practice, we've had a laser-like focus on building those services to fill the gaps. Around the corner, we've got a Medicare Urgent Care Clinic that's delivering services on extended hours, 7 days a week, and fully bulk billed for members of this community.
Today I'm delighted to be part of the opening of the Medicare Mental Health Centre for Northern Adelaide. This, again, will operate 7 days a week, it will be fully bulk billed, it will be available for people who just walk in – they don't need to go up and line up for referral from a general practitioner and they will receive really high-quality support from an organisation that has a 30-year record of delivering that innovative, compassionate, highly qualified support to people in this community. I want to say that as we were thinking about the Budget last month, I was really excited about making sure that these clinics really focused and really hone their focus on people with moderate to complex needs, in particular. Emma and I've been working with the mental health sector now for the last 12 months. And people with more complex needs really do not get enough support in our community across Australia. So we want to make sure that we really focus these Medicare Mental Health Centres to ensure that that group in our community is supported through these centres. We had additional funding in the Budget last month to increase the access that staff here have to psychiatric services and psychological support for their clients. That will roll out over the coming little period as well.
But these centres would not have been possible without the leadership and the partnership with the South Australian Government. We've got a bilateral agreement on mental health with Chris Picton’s department. And that is supporting the rollout not just of this Medicare Mental Health Centre but of mental health centres in Mount Gambier, in time in Mount Barker, Port Pirie, as well. And there's obviously the Urgent Mental Health Centre in the city that's delivering terrific work, as well. So I want to thank Chris Picton for his leadership, he’s doing a terrific job as the Health Minister in this jurisdiction, but shows a real willingness to work with the Australian Government to deal with some of the challenges we have here. I know Sonder is willing to take up this challenge. The staff, including staff with lived experience, are going to deliver a terrific service with the support that they've got from the Australian Government and the South Australian Government, with the opening of this service. So it's great pleasure to be here, I might hand to my South Australian colleague, Minister Picton.
SOUTH AUSTRALIAN MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND WELLBEING, CHRIS PICTON: Thank you very much, Mark. And this is really exciting. One of the things is often raised with me is why don't we have more alternatives for people other than to go to emergency departments, for people who are in mental health distress? And they’re exactly right: we do need alternatives. And that's exactly what we're delivering here at this new centre. This is a centre where people will be able to walk in without an appointment and – for free – be able to get care for mental health needs here in the northern suburb’s community. Open extended hours, and it's going to provide incredible support in this – what you can see around us – is a calming environment, which is obviously very different from being in a bustling noisy, very difficult, sometimes, emergency department. It's going to improve people's care, it's going to be much more calming environment, and it's also going to reduce pressure on our emergency departments, as well. This is the first step and we're also releasing the plans today for the next step, as well.
We've got the plans behind us for what we're about to build opposite the Lyell McEwin Hospital, which is a crisis-stabilisation centre. And this is going to be the next step, even more, where not only will there be walk-in support for people with mental health, but also there'll be back-of-house beds and support for that next level of complexity and help that people need as well. So that's a really exciting development. And we see this, we see what we've got in the Urgent Mental Health Care Centre in the city. We've also got the Safe Haven Centre at Salisbury as well. And there's more of these centres to come: in Mount Barker, we've got one in Mount Gambier, one to come in Port Pirie as well. And we're also going to be opening a new Medicare Mental Health Centre base for children in the southern suburbs, and also one in the city that is targeted at our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community as well, that we know has above odds issues, in terms of mental health distress, in that community as well. So I want to congratulate Sonder and all the partners, everyone from NALHN and the PHN who have been involved in working behind the scenes to make this happen. This is going to provide excellent care, it’s going to be an alternative to the emergency department, it's going to make sure people in the north get the mental health care that they need and deserve. I'll pass over to Sean from NALHN who can tell us a bit more about what we're about to build opposite the Lyell McEwen and then maybe Kat is going to speak in terms of what's going to happen here.
DIVISIONAL DIRECTOR FOR ALLIED HEALTH AND COMMUNITY, NALHN, SHAUN SWEENEY: Thanks. Thank you, Minister. Hello, my name is Sean Sweeney I'm the Divisional Director for Allied Health and Community here at NALHN – the Northern Adelaide Local Health Network. It's absolutely fantastic to be here, today. It's an auspicious occasion to have an example of true community mental health service delivery provided in partnership with the state, the Commonwealth, the Adelaide Primary Health Network and of course Sonder. The fantastic opportunity that this provides is to have a service that is a genuine alternative to emergency departments. If you're somebody who is experiencing mental health distress, certainly going to an ED site is just not the most comfortable experience. And certainly, as we all know, our hospitals are currently experiencing very high demand. If you're somebody who is really in distress, an alternative community-based site is most certainly the best option.
We all know that when somebody has any illness of any type, that early intervention is often the best cure, and services such as the Urgent Mental Health Care Centre and the Safe Haven and the Medicare Mental Health Centre and the Safe Haven provide absolutely fantastic opportunities to have an alternative experience, when you are experiencing a mental health episode or are needing a home-like environment in which to come in and just have a conversation with somebody, or to be linked to therapeutic services. It's also, in combination with this as both Minister Butler and Minister Picton flagged, we have a new 16-bed service that is opening on the precinct at the Lyell McEwen Hospital. That is a new and very innovative service for people experiencing mental health distress, where they can come for a couple of days and stay overnight and receive the mental health care that they need, that is different to that that they might experience in an emergency department and in a traditional mental health inpatient service. This is a peer-led service and one that will have a very strong focus on really helping people manage their emotions and providing that psychological support as they need. That service will be, of course, in collaboration with the Medicare Mental Health Centre and will be a fantastic opportunity in line with the Safe Haven Café, as well, to provide a tiered approach to providing care for those experiencing mental distress in the community. Thank you.
PEER PRACTICE LEAD, NORTHERN ADELAIDE MEDICARE MENTAL HEALTH CENTRE, KAT ELSBY: Good morning everyone. My name is Kat Elsby. And I have the enormous privilege to be the Peer Practice Lead for this Medicare Mental Health service in northern Adelaide, as well as the incredible Safe Haven service that runs in Salisbury. As my title might suggest to some people, I use my lived experience of mental health challenges and distress every day in the work that I've been doing. And I've been doing this for over 10 years now. And what it does, is that it allows me to connect with people in our community that are having experiences that are so close to my heart, because I’ve lived and breathed them myself. I have been able to be involved from the early co-design, from tendering, right through to the design of this service. And what I’ve seen the whole time is incredible presence of lived experience, connection with community, and truly providing innovative services for people that will meet their needs, where they’re at, at the time.
You don't need a referral. You don't need to pay. You come in and you're welcomed into a warm, comforting home-like environment, where you can connect with people from a variety of different disciplines, according to what your needs are and your preferences are. These two things are so vital to us, when we’re having these incredibly challenging experiences, because our choice can feel like it has been deprived of us. So to be able to give that back to community, in such a meaningful way, is truly something to be proud of, I think. We’ve heard the word ‘partnership’ be mentioned so many times this morning, because services like this, like the crisis-stabilisation centre, would not be possible without the amazing partnerships that occur: between Sonder, between the Northern Adelaide Local Health Network, between the Adelaide Primary Health Network, between our incredible government that has supported these measures, through and through, to live and breathe in our community, but mostly that partnership with community.
One of the wonderful things that I love to shout out is the presence of people from our community in all stages of planning and delivery of these services, whether that's through the Lived Experience Advisory Group that we have at Sonder, that has been so instrumental, that also is very strong and loud and proud through the Northern Adelaide Mental Health Alliance. And what it allows us to do, is hear the voices of the people that will be using these services. Voices like mine: I describe myself as having lived, and living, experience – I will still have these challenges because that is the nature of recovery. And I'm incredibly privileged to be able to see all of the hard work that has gone into the services, see the people walk through the door and say: “I wish this was the first door that I had walked through when I was experiencing my great levels of distress.” So thank you all for coming and visiting the centre, this morning. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: The Urgent Care Clinics – are they proving to be successful in Adelaide or do you have an update on how they're going?
BUTLER: Across the country last year, we opened 58 Medicare Urgent Care Clinics. I'd made a promise to the people at the last election we'd open 50, over the course of 2023, and we opened 58 of them. The last data I have is that more than 450,000 patients have gone through those clinics in less than 12 months. One in three of them are under the age of 15. One in three of them are going on the weekend, when there's no way they're going to be able to get into their GP if they need care urgently. And well over half of those people say that if they couldn't get into a clinic, they'd have to go to a hospital emergency department, so they're working terrifically well. And the really, really important thing about this is that every single one of those 450,000 patients have received this high-quality care, completely free of charge. They are fully bulk billed.
JOURNALIST: Has there been any states in particular that have been in the 'go slow' lane?
BUTLER: No, all 6 states and 2 territories are operating these centres. As I said, 58 of them across the country, we're in the process of opening another 29 that were funded in last month's Budget. I was in Sydney yesterday, announcing a new clinic in Fairfield, a clinic in in Liverpool in Western Sydney, as well. So they're just going from strength to strength and they're filling a real gap in the Australian healthcare system: that gap between standard general practice, on the one hand, and a fully equipped hospital emergency department. The feedback we're getting from patients right across the country is it means they can get care for themselves or for their kid that's needed urgently, that can't wait to get into a GP appointment, over several days. They can get it free of charge, close to their home, with very minimal waiting time, instead of going and spending several hours at the hospital emergency department.
JOURNALIST: Minister, what can you tell us about this ad that your government's launching?
PICTON: What we've got in place this year is a whole range of alternatives to going to an emergency department that weren't in place last year. We're standing in one of them right now, which obviously provides a very different and much better experience than having to wait in an emergency department. But on top of that, as Mark’s just outlined, we've now got Medicare Urgent Care Clinics open, thanks to the hard work of Mark and his team. State Government's also invested in 24-hour pharmacies that we've now got 3 open across Adelaide. And we've also got additional services that Mark and I are delivering to healthdirect, to enable people to connect with GPs virtually, when they call healthdirect services. So we want to get the message out to people that there’s a lot more services available, other than going to an emergency department. And while there's been campaigns run over many, many years, giving alternatives, we've really changed that and revitalised that, this year, with quite a hard-hitting, confronting campaign giving you the options other than going to an ED. So encouraging people to call healthdirect, get those options, other than having to wait in an emergency department
JOURNALIST: But with raising urgency, is your government blaming the public for your government's health woes?
PICTON: Absolutely not. We're giving people options in terms of making choices, other than having to go to an emergency department. And if people want to have a chat with somebody about what the right option is for them to take, we're encouraging them to call healthdirect and they can speak to a nurse, 24 hours a day, who can give them advice on the best way to go.
JOURNALIST: Can you provide an update on the status of code yellow? It's understood that the number of elective surgeries is starting to rise again, in terms of cancellations.
PICTON: The number of cancellations that we're seeing now is very, very low, compared to where we were a few weeks ago. Some 90% of those restrictions have now been lifted across the system. Our hospitals are still very, very busy. And we’re still working in a very coordinated way across our hospital system to make sure that the most urgent patients can get the care that they need. And obviously having additional centres, additional options, such as this, apart from emergency departments, helps to make sure that people can get care that they need faster. At the same time, we need that back-of-house capacity in additional hospital beds that we are building, to make sure that we can get people through the hospital system who otherwise get stuck.
JOURNALIST: The Department is still cancelling about a dozen elective surgeries each and every day, so when will things ease.
PICTON: We're reviewing this on a day-by-day basis, but as I said, 90% of those restrictions are now lifted.
JOURNALIST: When do you think code yellow in itself will be lifted?
PICTON: I don't have a crystal ball, as you'd expect, Ollie. So, you know, we're reviewing this on a day-by-day basis. Obviously the hospital system is still very busy. What being in an incident-management team approach, at the moment, enables us to do is to make sure that our whole system is coordinated to meet that challenge. And that's what's happening.
JOURNALIST: How bad is the situation, considering code yellow has now been in place for pretty much 3 weeks, I think, to the day today. And we're only still early days into winter. Do you expect that it will last for the entirety of winter?
PICTON: What we're facing at the moment is a combination of high rates of COVID, high rates of flu, RSV. It’s impacting not only in terms of people presenting to our hospitals, but also impacting upon staff who are ill from those diseases as well. And that’s necessitated having this statewide approach. I think that that has helped to coordinate a whole range of things across our system, including helping people get back to country hospitals faster, including helping people get out of hospital, who don't need to be there anymore, and also enabling a better flow within our hospital system. But we'll continue to review that, as it's needed, but certainly our hospitals are still very busy at the moment, which necessitates, as you said, making sure that people have the information about other options, other than going to an emergency department.
JOURNALIST: This report to Safe Work about the Mother's Day weekend trying to call a code yellow, and executives blocking that call. Did you think that that was an acceptable stance?
PICTON: The doctors’ union put in a whole range of different reports on an almost weekly basis. All of them have a consistent flavour, which is that our hospitals are very busy, and we need additional beds. And you know, the doctors’ union and I are on one unity ticket with the fact that we need more hospital beds in our system. Decades and decades in terms of constraining the number of beds in the system has led us to the point where we are full all the time. And that's why we need the hundreds of extra beds that we're building. So by the end of next year, we're going to have the equivalent of a whole new QEH hospital coming into our system in Adelaide, through the beds that are currently under construction across the system. That's what's needed to get the patients who, in that report very clearly, are stuck in the emergency departments waiting for a bed in a ward in the hospital, but there isn't a ward bed for them to go to because the hospital is so full. We need that capacity to free up the emergency department and to make sure that patients can be seen.
JOURNALIST: One mental health patient waiting 95 hours for a bed, another 24 hours in seclusion, unacceptable?
PICTON: This is why a big part of our strategy is building additional mental health capacity. So at Modbury, at Flinders, at Noarlunga, at the QEH, and now opposite Lyell McEwen Hospital, we are building additional mental health beds, at the same time that we're providing alternatives to mental health in the community, such as what we've opened here today.
JOURNALIST: So are there mental health staff shortages at the RAH, is that the case? Are you addressing that?
PICTON: We are increasing our staffing. We've increased our staffing by over 1,400 staff, including almost 700 nurses, over 300 doctors in the first two years we've come to office. We’re fast-tracking training of mental health nurses across our system, because we know that there's a need there, but we actually need the physical capacity as well. And that's what we're building.
JOURNALIST: The elective surgery overdue waitlist – the overdue list – is now 4,200. That's grown significantly since the code yellow was introduced. How high do you think it's going to get over this period of demand?
PICTON: I appreciate all of you asking me lots of different predictions for the future. But we need to manage the urgent cases that we're seeing both in the emergency department and our urgent elective surgery. We've now lifted 90% of those restrictions. And our hospitals are working to make sure that all of those patients can be rescheduled, who've had a deferral when their elective surgery, as soon as possible.
JOURNALIST: Do you know why the Government, or the Commonwealth it was jointly funded, hasn't acted on vacant land in Eastwood and housing development out there?
PICTON: Look, Minister Champion will know the details of this much better than me. But I can say that, you know, this is a government that is focused on housing, just as we're focused on health. And we are building additional houses, we're putting very big investments in the Budget to see more housing built and to unlock new land for housing that can be built right across the system. Because we know that that's a critical need and we need to increase the capacity. Thanks very much, guys.


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