JIM WILSON, HOST: Let's bring in Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler, who's on the line for his response. Minister, welcome back to the program.
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE MARK BUTLER: Thanks very much, Jim.
WILSON: Okay. Is there too much red tape when it comes to getting overseas doctors into our system?
BUTLER: The short answer is yes, there is. And, you know, I think your discussion with Michael is very important to reassure your listeners that we're simply not interested, no one's interested in compromising high standards for doctors trained overseas.
We're committed to making sure that anyone practicing in Australia, whether they're trained overseas or trained in Australia, is operating at the highest possible level. But there's just way too much red tape, which as Brad Hazzard has said, has meant that at a time when we have an unprecedented shortage of GPs, it's harder than ever to see a doctor.
And it is right now. We've got to to make it as easy as possible and some of the things I've discovered are frankly mind boggling. We know that there's been challenges for visa processing right across the economy.
We heard that from business at our Jobs and Skills Summit that the Prime Minister convened a few weeks ago - it's impacting every sector of the economy, but it's particularly severe when you're not getting the doctors or the nurses that you need to provide basic health care or basic aged care.
That has real implications for Australian patients. So, visa processing times has been a problem. We've had to employ hundreds of new staff in Home Affairs to get those visa processing times down. We announced that at the Jobs and Skills Summit. So I'm told right now the time taken to to process the visa for a skilled nurse is now less than a week, we've really got that down.
But the problem Brad Hazzard has been talking about, and all the health ministers across the country have been, is that even once we get them into the country and they land in Sydney, they're spending months and months sitting in an apartment in Sydney, or driving a cab, or an Uber, or working at a hospitality venue instead of getting straight onto the floor and doing the work they've been trained to do.
So how do we get that time frame down? And so I've found out, for example, Jim, that there are five different applications that these people have to make to five different organisations.
It's just madness. Why can't we get that down to one application? Which satisfies all of the requirements that Home Affairs might have, that a local health registration people might have, the medical board might have. And so on and so forth. So we're doing things like this to just remove the duplication and really get that that time, which now is measured in months and months between people landing in Sydney and actually getting onto the hospital floor or into the aged care facility, or really importantly, as Michael was saying, into the general practice, providing basic GP services out in the community.
WILSON: I mentioned this with Dr Clements, Minister. These stringent rules for foreign doctors were put in place for good reason to protect our high standards of skilled health care. So, you talk about fast tracking these skills without putting patients at risk of inadequately trained doctors. Is that going to be compromised?
BUTLER: No. I really want to reassure your listeners. We're not going to make any compromise on standards. No doctors group, no patients group is calling for that. No government in their right mind would be willing to do that.
This is really about the doctors that everyone accepts are up to Australian standards actually coming into the country and being put to work as soon as they possibly can. It's just it is red tape, it's bureaucracy that that's really holding things up at the worst possible time because you know, Australians across the nation are telling us it's never been harder than it is right now to get in to see a doctor.
There are nurse shortages in all of our major hospitals after two and a half years of the most exhausting work that our nurses have been on the frontline of.
So, we've got to deal with this. The other point I'd make to your listeners, though, Jim, is not only will we obviously never compromise on the highest possible standards, we've also got to get better at training Australian medical graduates into general practice.
I've said I'm terrified at the small number of young doctors, junior medical graduates who are choosing general practice as a career. It's never been lower. And if we don't lift that number and make general practice more attractive to Australian medical students, we're going to be in even worse strife than we are right now.
And I'm meeting with the Australian Medical Students' Association tomorrow to start talking about ways in which we can make general practice the sort of attractive career it was traditionally seen as being.
WILSON: I'm speaking to the Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler. Minister, before letting you go - new COVID booster which offers targeted protection against the Omicron variant has been rolled out today.
Has our vaccination advice changed in light of this?
BUTLER: No, it hasn't. It's essentially the same that we want people to get at whatever booster they have available to them. But I've been talking to all of the vaccine companies about making sure that Australians have access to the latest generation of vaccines.
And many of your listeners might have heard that, particularly the mRNA vaccine companies, Pfizer and Moderna, have been changing their vaccines to make them particularly focused on the Omicron variant of COVID, which has been sweeping, not just Australia, but the rest of the world over the course of this year.
And we are one of the first countries now to have the Moderna so-called “variant vaccine”. So it's a vaccine that targets the original strain of COVID, but also the Omicron strain of COVID and it’s shown to be more effective at dealing with the consequences of being infected by Omicron.
So we've talked to Moderna. We've got early access to that that variant vaccine. I've also been meeting with the leadership of Pfizer to make sure that when their variant vaccine, which also targets Omicron is on the global market, Australia has the earliest possible access to that as well.
WILSON: Last week, Australia's former Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Nick Coatsworth, told 2GB there should be a review of our vaccination strategy for healthy children aged 5 to 11. Do you support a review?
BUTLER: The group of experts that Nick Coatsworth would have worked with when he was working in the Commonwealth, is constantly reviewing the evidence for the entire population - adults, children, children under five - to make sure that our advice is the best possible advice for the population.
I don't pretend to second guess what that advice will be, but I have strong confidence that the therapeutic experts, that the immunisation experts are constantly reviewing, particularly the advice in relation to children.
WILSON: Minister, appreciate your time this afternoon.
BUTLER: Thanks, Jim.