Radio interview with Minister Butler and Bern Young, ABC Gold Coast - 22 May 2024

Read the transcript of Minister Butler's interview with Bern Young on new Medicare Urgent Care Clinic for the Gold Coast.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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BERN YOUNG, HOST: You're with Bern Young this morning on ABC Gold Coast. Well, without a doubt, our Gold Coast hospitals are under more pressure than ever. We already know that the emergency department at GCUH is the busiest in the country, and just yesterday, the emergency departments Medical Director conceded that the death of a 78-year-old man who at one stage couldn't get a proper bed in the emergency area, ended up dying on what was described as one of the busiest days he'd ever seen in that emergency department. So, can a new Medicare Urgent Care Clinic set for Southport help ease this intense pressure on our emergency health system? The Federal Health Minister, Mark Butler, is on the Gold Coast today to announce this new facility. Good morning to you, Minister.
YOUNG: Yeah, not too bad, but we've got a major issue in this city, and I know it's the country wide, but we are growing so fast, and that's not stopping. I'm just wondering, are you chasing your tail when it comes to keeping up with population growth on the Gold Coast, what evidence is there that this second Urgent Care Clinic is what we need to ease the pressure on that emergency room at GCUH?
BUTLER: You're right to say the pressure on hospitals right across the country is really intense right now, and it's more intense in places that have big population growth than in other parts of the country. That's obviously including the Gold Coast. The hospital here has the busiest emergency department in the country, or sometimes in the top 2 or 3 for some years now. So, it does sometimes feel like you're chasing your tail. I'm sure the state government feels that. I'm sure the Queensland community and the hard-working doctors and nurses down at the hospital feel that as well. There's no single silver bullet that's going to relieve that pressure, particularly with population growth. We're seeing that in other parts of the country where there's big population growth in some of the parts of Sydney and Melbourne as well. People have to remember against the background, I think Dr Green talked about this, is also after the years of COVID people are presenting to hospital sicker than they were before. They weren't getting the care they needed during the pandemic because of lockdowns or density requirements, or because people were diverted doing work in Covid. So right across the world, I know hospitals are experiencing this burgeoning demand that is going to take a little while to work through, even before you start accounting for the huge population growth here in the Gold Coast. I have to say, given the weather, it's no wonder people move here. I've got to say, having been down in the south of the country for a few days.
There is no single silver bullet, but we know these Medicare Urgent Care Clinics are relieving some pressure on the hospitals that they're situated near. Well over half of the people who are presenting to these clinics say that if they weren't available, that they'd be going to the hospital. You know, this is when a kid falls off the skateboard and breaks their arm, you can't wait several days to get into your normal GP, you've got to get care immediately, and these give people another option. They're open seven days a week, they're fully bulk billed, they're staffed by highly qualified doctors and nurses, many of whom have spent time working in emergency departments. So, they are part of the solution, but we've got to think much more broadly than it.
YOUNG: I'll just interrupt you there because we have got one of these Urgent Care Clinics already. It opened around six months ago at Oxenford. We've recently, at about the same time, opened the Tugun Satellite Hospital and yet we still have days like this one that Dr Green, you know, described as, simply, he's never seen a day like it in 40 years. So again, I just ask, where's the evidence to suggest that these kinds of facilities are actually taking the pressure off our major hospitals?
BUTLER: I think to be honest, they're taking some pressure off. As I said, there's no silver bullet here, and the pressure we're taking off, the hospitals are not the sorts of cases that are on the front page of the Bulletin. They are the sort of lower acuity cases that are just clogging up  emergency department waiting rooms are diverting some resources that we want really to focus on those truly life-threatening emergencies, which is what hospitals are built for. I'm not going to pretend to your listeners that there's any one easy fix to this, as I don't to listeners in other parts of the country that are dealing with real pressure on their hospital EDs. But we know the Gold Coast is growing, we know the hospital here is the busiest ED in the country, and that's why we've funded a second Urgent Care Clinic here. There are other things we need to do, this is part of a big package we announced in the Budget last week for Queensland. We developed it closely with the Queensland state government to do a couple of things. One, to deliver better care for people out in the community, but also always with a mind to relieving that pressure on hospital EDs. We know that too many older patients, particularly from aged care facilities, are being transferred to hospital when they could be cared for in the facility themselves. We've got substantial funding in last week's Budget to help the state government here do more outreach into aged care facilities so the ambulance doesn't have to go there and bring the older patient to any emergency department, whether it's Gold Coast or further up the border.
YOUNG: Yeah, that is definitely part of the equation I mean, it's very complex, and I'm not thinking Minister, that we're going to have the answers to all of it because it's so complex. You know, there is that aged care, element, there's the people who presented emergency because they can't get into a GP, hence why you're trying to get these Urgent Care Clinics up and operating. Can I ask though, because we're in such a unique place here on the Gold Coast as well, in that we're so close to another really big, brand new hospital just across the border, the Tweed Valley Hospital. In fact, I think the Premier of New South Wales and his Health Minister are in town, so to speak, later today to officially open that hospital. I'm just wondering what if any conversations are going on to say, should we be looking at, you know, a trio of three big hospitals? We've got Robina, we've got GCUH and we've got Tweed Valley, but we've got this, you know, imaginary line in between one of those, what are you doing as a Federal Government to look at collaboration to really, you know, you'd hate to think there were empty beds down in the Tweed and a crazy day up in Southport when you could work together. How are you working together?
BUTLER: Totally, these are long standing arrangements. They also exist in Albury-Wodonga, down between New South Wales and Victoria, and actually in Canberra as well. When there's a big population outside the ACT border that uses the Canberra Hospital. So there's a pretty long standing arrangements between the two governments around border communities. We cannot to get involved in that, sometimes we get asked to provide a bit of funding and things like that, but by and large, these are pretty long-standing arrangements that in this case, the Queensland and New South Wales government have. I think having a brand new hospital south of the border is going to be a good thing for the whole area, leave aside the border of the region. The whole area of southeast Queensland and the far north of New South Wales, having that new hospital there is just going to mean there’s less temptation for people in northern New South Wales to feel they have to cross the border and come to the big hospital here in Gold Coast.
YOUNG: In terms of the, Urgent Care Clinic that you're announcing today, it will be set for Southport, how far away is it?
BUTLER: We have to go through a competitive tender process. We ask general practices in the community whether they want to take their practice to the next level, really, and be an Urgent Care Clinic. We've had huge responses for the 58 we opened last year, so we expect to have that same response again. I don't have a timeline because of the competitive tender, but I've made it very clear to the officials who will be operating this I'd like to see this open by the end of this year.
YOUNG: Okay, and in that time, another 15,000 people have moved to the Gold Coast, Mark Butler so will it just be a band aid?
BUTLER: We keep doing what we can. As I said, this is one way in which to relieve some pressure off the ED. It's also about giving people better care in the community, so if you if your kid breaks their arm playing rugby on Saturday afternoon, instead of spending several hours in the emergency department of the hospital, you can get, you know, high quality care relatively quickly and completely free of charge at these clinics. The feedback we've had from parents, for example, because 1 in 3 of the patients going through these clinics are kids, the feedback from parents has been enormously grateful. So it's a bit about both It's better care in the community, but always with an eye to doing what we can to relieve pressure from our EDs.
YOUNG: The Federal Health Minister, Mark Butler, here on the Gold Coast today,  to launch this, new Urgent Care Clinic, Medicare funded, and hopefully up and operating by the end of the year. Thanks for your time on ABC Gold Coast this morning.
BUTLER: Pleasure, Bern.


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