Press conference with Minister Butler, Hobart – 20 May 2024

Read the transcript of Minister Butler's press conference about the New Medicare Urgent Care Clinic for Tasmania and energy bill relief for every Tasmanian household and small business.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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MEMBER FOR LYONS, BRIAN MITCHELL MP: Good morning, I'm Brian Mitchell, the Federal Member for Lyons. We're joining here in Hobart today with Health Minister, Mark Butler. We’ve got Alex and Darren from Ochre Health who run the Medicare Urgent Care Clinic here in Liverpool Street. Minister Butler is here for a terrific announcement as part of the Federal Budget last Tuesday, the Government confirmed 29 New Urgent Care Clinics for Australia, and I'm proud to say that Bridgewater, in the electorate of Lyons, is going to get one of them. This is something I fought really hard for. I really made the case because the people of Bridgewater, Brighton, Huon Valley, this will really help that area. People from the northern suburbs, more generally, we know how badly affected they are by chronic health conditions, and this will give them access to non-life threatening emergency care, with these Urgent Care Clinics that the Government's rolled out over the last couple of years that have been a stunning success. They've taken a lot of pressure off the public hospital system and I've got no doubt that when the Bridgewater Urgent Care Clinic is up and running, it will do the same. Mark, thank you.

 MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: Thank you, Brian, and thank you to Ochre Health for hosting us here and telling us a little bit about what's happening at the Urgent Care Clinic here in Liverpool Street in the inner city of Hobart. Last week's Budget delivered a tax cut for every single taxpayer, energy bill relief for every single household, and a whole range of new investments to strengthen Medicare in every single community. I'm delighted to be here with Brian Mitchell to talk about some of those investments here in Tasmania.
Last year's Budget saw a record investment into strengthening Medicare. We tripled the bulk billing incentive which has lifted the bulk billing rate in Tasmania in just five months by 5%, a bigger increase than any other state in the federation. We've also rolled out 58 Urgent Care Clinics over the course of 2023, including four here in Tasmania, two in Hobart, one in Devonport, and one in Launceston, and they've been delivering terrific care to Tasmania in just those short months. Around 25,000 Tasmanians have visited an Urgent Care Clinic. They're open seven days a week, importantly, they are fully bulk billed, and we know they're taking pressure off our very stressed hospital system. I was just talking to one of the people here at Ochre, who said that as much as 80% of the people who come through this Urgent Care Clinic say that if this was not available to them, they would have visited the Royal Hobart Hospital emergency department. Not only is it delivering care where people need it in the community, relatively quickly and free of charge, it's also taking pressure off EDs that we know right around the country are under enormous pressure.
I was delighted in last week's Budget that we were able to provide more investment for more Urgent Care Clinics around the country, including one at Bridgewater. Brian Mitchell has been a huge advocate for rolling out this model of care into his part of Tasmania, and I’m delighted that we will now have a competitive tender process for a provider in that part of Tasmania. We also recognise that the success of the clinics here in Tasmania mean that they need a bit of extra funding, so last week's Budget also provided extra funds for each of the four Urgent Care Clinics already operating so successfully here in Tasmania.
This is part of a $28 million package that I'm announcing for the Tasmanian health care system. It flows from really constructive discussions that the Premier Jeremy Rockliff and his colleagues had with the Prime Minister last December, a strengthening Medicare investment flowing from last week's Budget that not only will deliver these additional urgent care services, but also a range of services to provide better care for older Tasmanians. Trying to prevent them from having to go to hospital in the first place, through innovative models like virtual care and geriatric outreach. But also if they are in the hospital, helping them move through the hospital system into another area of care that's appropriate for their needs. We'll have better support for people, particularly with high level dementia, we'll have better support for people who are at the end of their life in aged care facilities. I want to thank the Tasmanian Government and all the other state governments for the really positive, innovative ideas that they put to the Commonwealth Government as part of this strengthening Medicare package.
Tasmania will receive considerably more than its population share of the strengthening Medicare funds in the announcements that I’m making today. That reflects the degree of interest the Commonwealth has in providing good constructive support to the Tasmanian Government, in providing the best possible health care for its population. I want to thank Brian for being here with me this morning, I really want to thank Ochre Health for hosting us and talking through the really interesting activity it's having here at the Urgent Care Clinic, and happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Just to start off with, when can we expect the clinic to open?
BUTLER: The funds flow really from the 1st of July in the in the new financial year. There'll be a competitive tender process for all of the new Urgent Care Clinics across the country, to a degree it depends how long the commissioning entity takes to get that tender up and running. Here in Tasmania, the state government with the Primary Health Network conducts the tender, so they'll be doing that work. I'd love to see that open by the end of the year. We were able to stand up 58 Urgent Care Clinics across the country in 2023, that was the promise I'd made at the 2022 election. It’s a new model of care, we had to negotiate operational protocols with state governments to ensure that hospitals and ambulance services as well as the Urgent Care Clinics were all on the same page, and we did that. I feel very confident we'll get this up and running very quickly, but ultimately, the tender will be conducted by the state government.
JOURNALIST: I'm sure that Tasmanians will be very excited to hear the news of this. But there’s already been criticism from the Tasmanian Health Minister Guy Barnett, he says that federal funding is grossly inadequate for Urgent Care Clinics. He’s called on the federal government to explain why it failed to sufficiently allocate funding required to open more.
BUTLER: I’m a little bit unclear why the Tasmanian Health Minister would say that. As I said, this is part of a $28 million package. Tasmania receives more than its fair share, in population terms, out of the funding that we provided in last week's Budget. The package reflects proposals put to the Commonwealth by the Tasmanian Government, as I said, we made it very clear out of the National Cabinet decision in December that this package would cover urgent care services, but also very importantly, better support for older people here in Tasmania and in other states around the country. I've seen the Tasmanian Government talk about the degree to which older people stuck in their hospitals are providing real pressure on the proper operation of the hospital system. We've heard that call from not just the Tasmanian Government, but other state governments around the country to provide better support. I've tried to be very positive about this, I think the Tasmanian Government put some really innovative ideas to us to fund to ensure that people get support outside the hospital system. That's older people in aged care facilities, that don't have to be admitted to hospital in the first place, and if they are, that they're able to move through the hospital system in the clinically appropriate time. I get that sometimes state governments want to play a bit of politics about this, but I have to say that, as the federal Health Minister, I feel very confident that Tasmania is getting at least its fair share from this substantial investment that we made to strengthen Medicare in last week's Budget. Now, in terms of the number of Urgent Care Clinics in Tasmania, I think it'll be very clear as we as we roll out the announcements over the course of the rest of the country, you'll be saying that Tasmania gets a pretty good deal compared to states like South Australia, WA, Queensland and others, in terms of population share.
JOURNALIST: Further to that, the state government's calling for five all up. Four more than I guess what's concerned at the moment, do you have anything to say about that?
BUTLER: Not much more than I just said. This is part of a $28 million investment. As I said, compared to population numbers, Tasmania is funded above its population share, you won't see that in other states. You will in the Northern Territory, because of its particular circumstances providing services in remote communities. But Tasmania does very well out of this package, it gets more than its population share. All of the dollars that we're investing reflect proposals that were put to us by the Tasmanian Government, by Minister Barnett's own department. Now, of course, the Tasmanian Minister might want to play a little bit of politics about this, I've been around long enough to know that that's part of the game, and I know that people would want more Urgent Care Clinics, they will always want more. They're working tremendously well. But we've had to fit all of the proposals that the Tasmanian Government put to us within the overall envelope that we had in last week's Budget. As I say, Tasmania does better in population terms than other states do. Once we start to roll out the other supports for older Tasmanians, Minister Barnett will see the way in which that relieves pressure on his hospital system that I know is under real pressure here.
JOURNALIST: But because the Budget has been handed down, that period for proposals has now closed, I assume. It's not like the Health Minister could put forward another proposal for another Urgent Care Clinic and you'd be open to that?
BUTLER: No, the money was announced out of the National Cabinet decision. I get the Guy Barnett was not at that meeting, Jeremy Rockliff was representing the state, and all of the Premiers and Chief Ministers and Prime Minister came to two decisions: the first was that we will try to reach a new hospital funding agreement by the end of this June. Negotiations are proceeding very well between all of the jurisdictions to do that. There will be at least $13 billion dollars in additional funding provided by the Commonwealth to the hospital systems around the country in that agreement. That was the first decision that Premier Rockliff signed on to. The second was that the Prime Minister put $1.2 billion on the table for a range of shorter-term strengthening Medicare investments. From that meeting, we invited all state governments to submit proposals for that, making it clear that we wanted those proposals to focus in part on Urgent Care Clinics and in part, probably larger part, on better support for older people interacting with the hospital system.  As I said, I'm trying to be positive about this, the Tasmanian Government put some very interesting innovative proposals, particularly around that challenge of longer stay older patients in our hospital system, and we've funded that beyond, frankly, the population share of this state in the federation.
JOURNALIST: We've seen private providers of GP services have had issues with them pulling out of areas including in Bridgewater. Does having an Urgent Care Clinic mean that there's less risks to the community as a result of people pulling out like that?
BUTLER: Urgent care is a slightly different model of care to the usual services that general practitioners provide. It is, as its name suggests, there for care that people need to get immediately. So you can’t wait several days for, it might be a urinary tract infection, it might be your kid falls off the skateboard and breaks their arm. That care can be provided in a setting like this, it doesn't have to be provided in a fully equipped hospital. As I said, this takes a bit of pressure off the hospital system. That's quite different to the sort of care that people will get from their GP. Often that will be ongoing care for a chronic disease like diabetes or heart condition, they are two quite different things and we're very focused on making sure we provide as much support to general practice, not urgent care, but to general practice as well. Over the last two years, in last week's Budget and last year's Budget, we've increased the Medicare rebate by twice as much as the former government managed in nine long years. Over and above that, we've tripled the bulk billing incentive for general practitioners who bulk bill that has benefited Tasmania more than any other state. We've seen, in just five months, a 5% increase in the bulk billing rate in this state, which had lower bulk billing rates than most states in the federation. Here in the electorate of Clark, down in Hobart, that increase has been almost 9%, the second largest increase in bulk billing of any federal electorate in the country. We're also investing very substantial funds in general practice. Because I said when we came to government, general practice, in my view, had never been in a more parlous state than it is now, in the 40 year history of Medicare. We've got to invest more funds, we've got to be cleverer about the way in which general practice interacts with the hospital system, which is why we've funded this new model of care in Urgent Care Clinics.
DOCTOR ALEXANDRA SEIDEL: I'm Dr Alexandra Seidel, and I'm the Regional Medical Director for Ochre Health in Tasmania.
JOURNALIST: Can you tell us a bit about how this Urgent Care Clinic functions, and what role it plays in the healthcare system?
SEIDEL: I imagine the Bridgewater clinic will function quite similarly to the Urgent Care Clinic that's run by Ochre Health, here in Liverpool Street in Hobart. It's a clinic that's open during the after hours period. So this one is open from 12pm to 8pm, and services population that needs their medical care taken care of urgently. We know that patients would prefer to be seen in general practice. Emergency departments are noisy, overwhelming environments, where quite often for people who are vulnerable, is not the best place for them to be seen. When they're able to receive care in an urgent manner, but delivered by GPs in a calm environment, then it's the best outcome for everybody.

JOURNALIST: For this service, what have you kind of seen since opening I guess, that kind of demand and what makes you expect that to be similar in Bridgewater?
SEIDEL: This clinic has been averaging around 30 patients a day, and we know, from what Minister Butler has already said, that about 80% of those people would have gone to the emergency department if they did not receive care in the Urgent Care Clinic. We know that it is servicing in need that the population has, and we would expect that that would be the same thing happening in Bridgewater as well.
JOURNALIST: Just to recap, what is the opening hours?
SEIDEL: I'm not sure what the opening hours of the Bridgewater clinic will be, but this clinic is open from 12pm to 8pm at nighttime. It services part of the after hours period, but also people who might have been waiting overnight to be seen, they're able to be seen by lunchtime the next day.
BUTLER: To follow up that, we're keen to see these hours extend from the current opening hours that you have in those clinics currently in Tasmania, which is why we've provided additional funds. Those opening hours are usually set in discussions with the local hospital, to see when their peak time of pressure is, particularly for those lower urgency presentations, category four and five presentations, to the local emergency department. But we've provided additional funds for the four existing clinics in Tasmania in last week's Budget, and we’ll be talking to the commissioning entity, which is the Tasmanian Government, to see whether they can negotiate longer opening hours with those additional funds.
JOURNALIST: TasNetworks has been taking some questions about a potential 15% increase in power prices. Could you just recap exactly how many Tasmanians would benefit from the federal government's energy bill relief?
BUTLER: We were focused on cost of living relief, in last week's Budget above any other thing. That's why we were able to deliver every single taxpayer a tax cut, and every single household energy bill relief. Every single Tasmanian household will receive a $300 energy bill relief, from last week's Budget, as well as energy bill relief for thousands and thousands of small businesses as well.
JOURNALIST: Just on the stadium GST, that's come up again, but I suppose you're able to shed some light on why only a little bit of funding has been allocated to that project in the Budget?
BUTLER: No, I'm sorry, you have to put that question to someone with some portfolio responsibility for that.
JOURNALIST: That's fine.
BUTLER: Wonderful, thank you so much.

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