Radio interview with Minister Butler and Sonya Feldhoff, ABC Radio Adelaide - 24 May 2024

Read the transcript for Minister Butler's interview with Sonya Feldhoff on Singapore Airlines SQ321 incident; new Medicare Urgent Care Clinic for South Australia; taking pressure off SA hospitals; medical student placements.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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SONYA FELDHOFF, HOST: It’s coming up to 7:21, you’re listening to 891 ABC Radio Adelaide, Sonya and Jules with you. Listening to what Keith had to say is South Australian MP, and he also holds the title of the Federal Health Minister, Mark Butler. Mark Butler, good morning to you.
FELDHOFF: It’s a hard listening to what Keith and Kerry have been through, but is there anything you can or are doing to help, Kerry and Keith and other Australians impacted by the SQ321 turbulence incident?
BUTLER: Such a frightening and distressing story. I mean, the event in and of itself, obviously, but as Keith was saying, everyone just wants to get home as quickly as they possibly can. We've had consular staff not just from Bangkok, but also from Singapore, working from really the get-go after this awful event. They’re terrific staff and I'm glad that they're working well with Keith. But the engagement of Singapore Airlines and the CEO visiting Keith and Kerry and other Australians who are in hospital as well, I think is a really positive development. So, you know, we're engaged day by day on this through our terrific consular staff and anything we can do, the Government is obviously keen to assist. But we've got to make sure that people are stabilised medically, that they're medically able to travel. Then, as Keith was saying, Singapore Airlines then needs to come to the party and help people get home as quickly as they possibly can.
JULES SCHILLER, HOST: If you've just tuned in, we heard from Keith Davis, whose wife Kerry was injured and they didn't have any communication with Singapore Airlines for a couple of days. But then Keith Davis said they met with the CEO, he has agreed for a medevac flight. Do you understand that other Australians will be on that medevac flight, Mark Butler?
BUTLER: I'm not advised of that, this is working really through the Foreign Affairs portfolio. But I think the critical thing is that the local medical staff declare people fit to travel. Now that might not all happen at once. There's a variety of different conditions that people are in. So the critical thing is that people are stabilised, that they don't have their condition aggravated by being on a flight for several hours. I'm really pleased to hear that Keith is very happy with the treatment they're getting in Bangkok, and particularly Kerry, who's obviously more seriously injured. But that critical first step is to stabilise people who have some, you know, pretty troubling injuries: head and spinal and neck injuries are obviously potentially very serious. So the first thing is to make sure people are medically stable, and then after that get them home as quickly as possible.
FELDHOFF: I mean, obviously Singapore Airlines is the main player in this in terms of organising that medevac, but do we just take over once they get on Australian land, or do we as a country play a role in getting them here as well?
BUTLER: That'll be a discussion really between our consular staff and the Department of Foreign Affairs and the airline. I'm not involved in that myself, but you can be very confident that the people we have working in those offices in Bangkok and in Singapore, they're very experienced, very dedicated, and I know they're working day in, day out to get people home as quickly as we can.
FELDHOFF: On to other health issues, you are in town making an announcement yesterday with the local Health Minister, Chris Picton, on Modbury being selected as one of the sites of the Medicare Urgent Care Clinics, one of those announced in the federal Budget. Is that the only one South Australia will get from those announced in the Budget?
BUTLER: So this is part of a big package, a $56 million package for South Australia that came out of last week's Budget. The package was really foreshadowed at a meeting of the National Cabinet in December that obviously Premier Malinauskas was at, to provide some pretty immediate funding into state health systems to relieve some of the pressure on hospitals. At the moment, we're negotiating a new five-year agreement, but that won't kick in until next year. That will provide very substantial additional funds for particularly the smaller jurisdictions, including South Australia, but we're focused on what we do in the interim, that 12 month gap. The National Cabinet focused on two things: some more Medicare Urgent Care Clinics, but also how we move older people through hospital systems more quickly and more effectively. That's something I know Chris Picton and the health department here have been working on, so the bulk of the package for South Australia is focused on that issue. You would have heard Minister Picton and others talk about the fact that on any given day, there's a couple of hundred older people in South Australian hospitals who clinically have been assessed as ready for discharge, but we just can't find somewhere to move them to. That so-called “bed block” means that a whole lot of other people have trouble getting in the front door. So that's really the vast bulk of the package for South Australia is going on some really exciting, innovative ideas that the South Australian Health Department has come up with. Some of the terrific, particularly geriatrician clinicians, have come up with to move people through the hospital system more smoothly.
FELDHOFF: You talk about money for these Geriatric Flying Squads, which is a marvellous name, and you were particularly complimentary about the South Australian version of this, although there are other versions interstate. What is it about South Australia's plan that is different and stood out for you?
BUTLER: What South Australia has been doing for a little while now is very effectively reaching into aged care facilities. I mean, for too long – I was in the health portfolio you know, ten plus years ago – and there has traditionally been a really “them and us” approach to health systems. So the Commonwealth looks after aged care and primary care - so general practice and things like that - and the states look after hospitals and we don't really work with each other very effectively. That's been, unfortunately, the story of health policy for many, many years. I think, in a way, Covid really taught us to work much better together. And so now what we have is, even though aged care facilities are strictly a Commonwealth responsibility, where an older person takes a fall or becomes ill in an aged care facility, the state system here has been reaching into the aged care facility, to see whether they can be cared for on site. That might be a geriatrician visiting, they might send a mobile x-ray machine out there to determine whether the fall resulted in a fracture or not. In the old days, what would happen, instead, is they'd be put in an ambulance pretty much immediately, transferred to hospital, and sometimes end up there for many weeks or even many, many months - not a good place for them to be away from the people they've come to be familiar with in their aged care facility and not good for the hospital system. So reaching into the aged care facility, trying to prevent as many hospital admissions as possible.
SCHILLER: Can I just ask one quick question before we go, why aren't there more medical school places? I've got a friend whose daughter's got a PhD in science doing the GAMSAT, she just wants to become a GP and she can't find a place in a medical school. Why don't we create more medical student places so we get more GPs?
BUTLER: Look, it's a good question, Jules. Unlike pretty much every other part of the university system, there's always been a very strong control on the number of medical school places. There hasn't been much of an increase over the last ten years, in spite of the population getting bigger and getting older. But what we have done over the last couple of years is create additional places in rural areas. But there's been no additions to city medical schools really anywhere in Australia for probably a decade. So that's something people are talking to me about. It's not something we've moved on yet, we've been focusing on trying to increase the number of medical school places in our smaller towns. So in Far North Queensland last week, I announced a medical school for the first time in the Northern Territory, where there's a real dearth of medical training. But it is something I think we are going to have to look at.
FELDHOFF: All right, federal Health Minister Mark Butler, thank you very much for your time. 

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