Minister for Health and Aged Care - Press Conference - Adelaide - Friday, 5 May 2023

Read the transcript of Minister Butler's Press Conference in Adelaide on Heart Health Checks and cheaper medicines.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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LOUISE MILLER-FROST MP, MEMBER FOR BOOTHBY: It’s fantastic to be down here at the Glengowrie Medical Centre on Heart Week for a very exciting announcement, I have with me a number of people for Heart Week,  Minister Mark Butler, Peter Wilson who is our lived experience who is going to tell his story in a moment, and David Lloyd who is the CEO of Heart Foundation. And I think I’m handing straight over to the Minister.


MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: Thank you Louise, thank you David, and other members of the Heart Foundation for joining us, and particularly Peter for coming over from Port Lincoln to tell his really compelling story. Thank you Louise for all the support you’re giving us in the health team with your vast experience in the health sector over many years, it's been really valuable to us. As we lead into Budget I'm really delighted to make an important announcement today about the heart health of thousands and thousands of Australians. We know that one in 10 Australians who are dying at the moment are dying of heart disease. In spite of all the incredible advances we've made in recent years and decades in cardiovascular treatment and in prevention, heart disease is still a major killer of Australians. Much of it, as the Heart Foundation and clinicians tell us all the time is entirely preventable.



For the last four years, we've had in place a heart health check or a heart health assessment that general practitioners are able to undertake, that literally saves thousands and thousands of lives. And unfortunately, that was due to come to an end on the 30th of June that opportunity to save lives and to give good preventative advice from a GP to patients was going to be lost. I'm delighted to announce that in next week's Budget, there will be money allocated to continue that heart health assessment. Over the next two years, we expect more than 250,000 people will be able to get this high-quality heart health check from their GPs, and that will save literally thousands and thousands of lives.



I want to really thank the GP community across Australia for their enthusiasm over the last four years in embracing this heart health check. We know that more than 450,000 high quality checks have already been made, as I said, saving thousands and thousands of lives but I also want to thank the Heart Foundation and other groups in the Heart Coalition for their really powerful advocacy to us as government, directly to me as Minister, and through backbench members like Louise, about the importance of us finding the money to be able to extend this heart health assessment. I'm absolutely delighted that next week's Budget that Jim Chalmers will deliver on Tuesday night has found that money and given the opportunity of GPs across Australia to have those discussions with their patients, a high-quality check, and save thousands and thousands of lives. So now I'll hand over to David to talk about this from a Heart Foundation perspective.



DAVID LLOYD, HEART FOUNDATION CEO: Terrific, thank you very much Minister. Obviously, we are thrilled about this. The renewal of the heart health check on the MBS was one of the most important things to us in in this Budget. We did, as you said Minister, we made our case strongly I think, but I hope also respectfully in the budget context. We realised that it's a complex environment in which the government makes this kind of decision. But ultimately, what can I say, we've been listened to and we're deeply, deeply grateful for that. Heart disease, as you say, Minister, causes more deaths in Australia than anything else. We really do need our own item on the MBS. You also mentioned the coalition of support the Heart Foundation has had around this campaign for the last few weeks. I really do want to thank my colleagues in the wider cardiovascular sector, we're a diverse bunch and we come together pretty well, generally speaking. Honestly, I've never seen anything like the coalition of support that the Heart Foundation has had from right across the sector for this.

I also want to acknowledge that 41 - I started off with 40 this morning - but it's now 41,000 people have signed the petition that supports the Heart Foundation, the wider sort of family of interest, if you like around the Heart Foundation, clinicians, donors, patients, researchers, and the wider community have come together to support us. The people I really want to acknowledge most are the general practitioners and the nurses and the allied health professionals who run these heart health checks. As you said, Minister, 450,000 of these checks have been run over the last three or four years, several hundred thousand more will be run over the next two years. That means tens of thousands of lives will be saved and, in that work, GPs and nurses and allied health professionals we are right behind you at the Heart Foundation producing Heart Health Check toolkits and all the resources that we hope will be useful to you in doing this work. As we like to say at the Heart Foundation, we love your work and we're grateful for it. So thank you again, Minister. This we believe is a great decision and we're deeply grateful for it.



PETER WILSON, HEART ATTACK SURVIVOR: Thank you for having me here, Minister and of course, the Heart Foundation. Two years ago, I had a heart attack. Unfortunately, one morning on a Wednesday morning after training, physical training, I have gone home in the afternoon, and I've got pains across the chest on the Wednesday. Of course, being a boxing trainer, you think you're macho and that you’ll be right. My daughter who is an enrolled nurse actually said to me probably around about a week before, you're looking a bit terrible their Dad. Anyhow, I didn't worry about it, fobbed it off. I really wish I had taken notice. Thursday morning to do the right thing and get the heart ticking I went swimming down at the shark net in Port Lincoln. Then halfway through the swimming incident I had a pain in the chest and went home and my wife said, “what's wrong?” I said, “nothing.” Naturally, you've got to be a macho man and tough. And then of course, on Friday morning, I've got out of bed and then that was at eight o'clock, I put the clothes on, I didn't want to disturb my darling wife in bed, and I rode the bike to the hospital. I wouldn't recommend that to anyone, mind you. One of my doctors is a colleague of mine, I trained her, she did give me a lift. The support I got from the family and the support that I got from the Royal Flying Doctor Service, as you know, you get flown out from Port Lincoln, the people that helped me in the Royal Adelaide Hospital, I can't thank enough. I was then supported by great nurses importantly in hospital after for rehabilitation and that was absolutely fantastic. I couldn't thank than any more than I can today. After that it was “slow down, Peter.” I'm sorry, I'm still training. I still do everything.



The simple fact is don't be scared of a heart attack, get it checked before it actually happens. I do believe that, you know, we've got the ways and means and of course now with the Minister supporting us with the funding for the heart checks. I do thank him. I get a bit of emotional about this because that is very important. I've known a lot of people. I've known a lot of people that have died importantly, because of heart attacks and one of my best friends died last week. So. I thank you very much.



BUTLER: Thanks, Peter.  



JOURNALIST: Minister, how much will the Medicare heart health checks cost the Budget?


BUTLER: Those numbers will be available and published on Tuesday night by Treasurer Chalmers and there will be a full accounting for all of the decisions that we’re making to improve the health of Australians, including this one.


JOURNALIST: And what amendments will be made to the First Nations people around these heart health checks?


BUTLER: In addition to extending the basic heart health assessment - as the Heart Foundation has said, it has provided such support for 450,000 Australians. We are also amending the First Nations heart health assessment to provide that it can be delivered within 12 months of a broader health assessment, which has been pointed out to us by First Nations Health groups as an anomaly in the system right now. So, this will also broaden the availability of very important heart health checks for First Nations Australians.


JOURNALIST: National Cabinet has endorsed the Interim Report looking at overseas health workers. Is that an endorsement of the recommendations and will they be going into effect?


BUTLER: That’s right. National Cabinet - the Prime Minister, Premiers and Chief Ministers have given us as a group of Health Ministers, essentially a direction to implement the Interim Report from Robyn Kruk, who was asked by the National Cabinet to conduct a review of overseas trained doctors, nurses and health workers and how we can get them into the country more quickly, more seamlessly, and get them onto the ground, onto the floor delivering really important health care. So already as Health Ministers, we've had an initial discussion about how we do that.


JOURNALIST: On 60-day prescription, the Pharmacy Guild is saying there are 158 medications proposed for double dispensing whereas you're saying there’s only and seven, and this is the context of a possible shortage. Which number is correct?


BUTLER: I'd advise people to take advice not from the pharmacy lobby, but from the medicines authority themselves, who are telling me that of the list of 320 odd medicines, which will be available for 60-day dispensing, halving the cost of those medicines for those 6 million patients, only seven of them are currently experiencing a shortage without some alternative brand or formulation available to them. Now from time to time, there will be brand shortages, these will not be impacted by 60-day dispensing, because as everyone who thinks about this for more than three or four minutes knows, this change will not impact at all the number of tablets being prescribed over a given period. It will simply mean that people can get two packs over two months instead of one pack every single month. So, I really, really do caution the pharmacy lobby against this frankly dishonest and pretty cynical scare campaign that they're running and get behind a program that is going to halve the cost of medicines for 6 million Australians with chronic disease, many of them who are on low and fixed incomes.


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