Radio interview with Minister Butler and Rebecca Levingston, ABC Brisbane Mornings - 24 February 2023

Read the transcript of Minister Butler and Rebecca Levingston on Urgent Care Clinics, tobacco reform and vaping.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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REBECCA LEVINGSTON, HOST: Minister, good morning,  


LEVINGSTON: Remind us, what are the Urgent Care Clinic going to do? 

BUTLER: An Urgent Care Clinic as a model is pretty widely used around the rest of the world and essentially provides a service somewhere between your standard general practice and a hospital emergency department. So, think of when you have these sorts of minor non-life-threatening emergencies, like when your kid falls off the skateboard or busts their arm, you get something stuck in your eye or a deep cut or a burn, you don't need to go to a hospital emergency department but you do need care very urgently. This is a model that means that people who can't find a GP - maybe at 6 or 7 o'clock at night, or if they can find a GP, they can't get in for two or three days, and right now across Australia too often are having to go to the hospital emergency department. We know that our EDs are already overcrowded. This service will be open 8am to 10pm, will be staffed by people with emergency qualifications - so often they’re doctors who have worked in emergency departments and nurses have worked in EDs as well, they'll have imaging for x-rays and a whole range of other equipment you'd normally want for these sorts of emergencies, and you will get, importantly, treated free of charge. So, you’ll be able to walk in, doesn’t have to be your regular service, you’ll be able to walk in, take your son or daughter in who has fallen off their skateboard, and get them treated quickly, instead of having to wait six or eight hours potentially at an emergency department, and importantly, take that pressure off EDs right now. 

LEVINGSTON: Are you worried they're just going to get swamped? I mean, people are going to hear bulk-billed doctor 8am to 10pm and just go, who's going to get turned away? 

BUTLER: We’ve worked really hard with state and territory governments across the country, and I think they realise the benefit to their hospitals systems of making this model work. And we’ve defined what is called a scope of practice, so you can’t just go in there because you’ve got a cold, or because you’ve got a chronic disease and you need to see a GP. All of that sort of care will have to happen in the usual ways. There will be a triage system, as there is at hospitals for example, that will assess you or your kid - if you’re bringing in one of your kids - and determine that it’s appropriate that you be at an Urgent Care Centre. Importantly, as well, we’ve been working with states to make sure that there are very clear protocols between the local hospital. We’ve tried to locate these things in a hospital precinct, in areas where hospitals are overwhelmed with their own emergency departments, there's got to be very clear protocols about when someone can go to an urgent care centre, and when they actually need to go and see a hospital emergency department. So, ambulances will be very clear on this, and the referral services – the phone referral services like Healthdirect - which often people ring when they’ve got something they need looked after, they’ll also be very clear to make sure that people get the right care in the right place. 

LEVINGSTON: So, Minister, the plan is for 11 of these Urgent Care Clinics around Queensland. In the south-east there’s Ipswich, Gold Coast, Redcliffe, Logan. There’s two planned for Brisbane, one on the north side, one on the south side. What are the locations of those? 

BUTLER: We’ll be putting out an Expression of Interest for that, we’ve worked with the state government and what’s called Primary Health Networks, and those are organisations that we fund from a Commonwealth level to coordinate general practice and other primary health in a region. We’ll have a fairly wide footprint for them, and existing general practices who want to step their practice up to the next level, who might have some room in their practice to put in place some treatment theatres, they'll be able to bid for that, and they’ll receive funding under this program. It will be the standard Medicare funding, but we also know that to make this model work we need to provide some additional funding so that they can employ those staff that I talked about earlier.  

As well as these 11 centres, we also at the last election promised to reinstate funding to the Morayfield Accident and Illness Centre which operates up in the north of Brisbane, a very big urgent care centre that's been, I think, a bit of an exemplar for the rest of the country. We’re in the process now of rolling out that funding to that centre, so that will be very important for that part of Brisbane - also takes pressure off the Caboolture Emergency Department. 

LEVINGSTON: So, these Urgent Care Clinics are fully funded by you, by the Federal Government? 

BUTLER: That's right.  

LEVINGSTON: When will those Urgent Care Clinics be up and running and open to the public? 

BUTLER: This year.  

LEVINGSTON: This year, 2023? 

BUTLER: Yep.  

LEVINGSTON: Okay. Just finally, Mark Butler, you’re meeting with state and territory Health Ministers from around the country in Brisbane today. Vaping is also on the agenda. How are you going to crack down on the sale of vapes? 

BUTLER: We'll have a discussion about that, we're also keen to consider the National Tobacco Strategy, which has been in that sort of basket, waiting to be dealt with for a number of years now, I have announced a range of new initiatives we want to take to reignite the fight against tobacco, but over the last few years, vaping, you’re right, has become an increasingly serious concern, particularly around children and adolescents. We’re going to consider correspondence from our Education Minister colleagues – state, federal Education Ministers - they tell us, and I get the same feedback myself, that school principals now - primary school principals, as well as high school – say that vaping is now the number one behavioural issue in their schools, which is just extraordinary. And these vapes, as you probably know, they’re often marketed with pink unicorns on them and bubble gum flavour, these aren't being marketed to adults these are directly targeted to kids, and I'm determined to stamp that out. 

LEVINGSTON: Well, I mean, it's so easy, Minister, a kid can walk into a convenience store or whatever and buy one of those bubble gum or mango ice vapes. There's no ID checks, there's no questions asked. Is there a role for police here, too? 

BUTLER: And that’s clearly illegal. In every state that's clearly illegal, and often they have nicotine in them, which is also clearly illegal. This black market has just cropped up over the last few years and is out of control right now. The number of people vaping runs into the hundreds of hundreds of thousands. It is unsafe, it is causing real illness, particularly for children and adolescents, and leading them often into considering smoking, as well. So, we've had the TGA: The Therapeutic Goods Administration out doing a consultation over summer to test what people want, that had parents putting submissions into this, teachers putting submissions into this, as well, as you’d expect, health experts, and we’ll be considering that as well. At the end of the day the Commonwealth will have to act, including potentially on the borders. My predecessor Greg Hunt tried to put an important control regulation in place on this but a range of his colleagues in his party room overturned that regulation within a couple of weeks. So, we have to consider controls at the borders, we have to consider health regulations. I know my state and territory colleagues realise there's going to have to be some policing resources put into this as well because it is just rampant through the community.  

LEVINGSTON: Appreciate you being in Brisbane, we'll talk again soon. Minister, thanks so much.  

BUTLER: My pleasure, thank you. 

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