Radio interview with Minister Butler, Andy 'Tubes' Taylor and Kaz McMullen, Triple M Hobart – 20 May 2024

Read the transcript of Minister Butler's interview with Andy 'Tubes' Taylor and Kaz McMullen on the new Medicare Urgent Care Clinic for Tasmania.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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ANDY 'TUBES' TAYLOR, HOST: It's Triple M Breakfast with Kaz and Tubes at 8.14. The federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler, is in Tasmania today with some good news for our health system. And he joins us live in the studio right now to tell us more. Minister, good morning.
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: Little chilly, but good morning nonetheless!
TUBES: It is a little chilly. We're okay with that. Here in Tasmania you can always put more clothes on. There's only so many you can take off before you get arrested, Minister. So you're here to announce an Urgent Care Clinic for our northern suburbs, which is very much needed. Our health system here in Tasmania is in somewhat of a crisis. We've got ambulance being ramped. There are reports of 30 positions for pharmacists at the Royal Hobart Hospital. You can't get in to see a GP. What I'd like to know is: who is responsible for our health system? Because I feel like when the state government says things are going well, they take responsibility for it. When it's going bad, they blame the federal government, which you're a part of. And when things are going good, the opposite happens from the federal government to the state government. Who's responsible for our health system here in Tasmania?
BUTLER: The truth is both of us are. I mean, the Commonwealth provides a lot of funding into the hospital system: almost half. We're going to increase that share over the coming few years. But the states run the hospitals and that's as it should be. You know, you don't want hospitals run from Canberra, you want them pretty close to where the action is. The Commonwealth also obviously funds Medicare and funds pharmacies. So the truth is: it's pretty spread between the two levels of government. I mean, I was a health minister in the last Labor government more than a decade ago. And I got to say, back then, state and federal governments tended to arm wrestle a lot about health care policy, even when they were all Labor governments, they did. Nowadays and I think Covid had a bit to do with this – nowadays, I think the state governments are much more cooperative with the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth with them. I think we understand that we're all in this together. I've had a good relationship in my couple of years as Health Minister with the Liberal Government down here, the Premier first of all, when he was the Health Minister, and Guy Barnett now. Because I think everyone understands health systems, frankly, not just across Australia, right across the world, are under real pressure. I mean, Covid imposed amazing pressures on the health care systems. And right across the world, we're seeing people are sicker, they weren't going to the doctor during Covid when they perhaps should have or would have, if they weren't locked down or subject to other restrictions. As people are getting older, you know, in the Western world we're an ageing population, we've got more chronic disease. And there's been financial pressure in Australia in Medicare, particularly, for a decade there wasn't really any increase to the Medicare rebate. So there's a bit of a perfect storm going on. But it's not just here in Tassie, it's on the mainland as well. And it's frankly across the Western world.
TUBES: A Medicare Urgent Care Clinic was announced for our northern suburbs to be built at Bridgewater. Really important. Why?
BUTLER: These Medicare Urgent Care Clinics are pretty new. I took them to the last election as a promise. We opened 58 of them last year, 4 of them here in Tasmania, 2 in Hobart, Devonport and Lonnie and it's a bit of a new model for Australia. It's very common overseas, but it's essentially something in between a usual general practice, as you'd understand it, and a hospital. So if your kid falls off the skateboard or does their wrist or breaks their arm at footy on Saturday afternoon, usually your GP is not open, and if they are open, they're very hard to get into. So parents have been taking their kids to hospital emergency departments or for other urgent care. So you need to see someone immediately, but you don't necessarily need a fully equipped hospital. These things are open 7 days a week. Importantly, they're fully bulk billed, so they're completely free of charge. And they've been really successful. About a quarter of the services here in Tasmania have been on the weekend when there's really very little chance of seeing your usual GP. A lot of them are after hours and they're staffed with people who've got really good experience in emergency medicine.
KAZ MCMULLEN, HOST: So do they really work though? This is just from personal experience and chats with school mums around the school gate. So if your kid breaks their arm, they go to the Urgent Care Clinic, but then they're sent away. So they're spending time sitting there waiting and there are no x-rays available. So then they are then sent on to the hospital. I myself have two elderly parents. Last year, they had respiratory and cold and flu issues and heart conditions. They went to the Urgent Care Clinic, on advice from the ambulance. They waited three hours and then they were sent away. So are we doubling up because the Urgent Care Clinics can't do what we keep saying they're doing? Can you get an x-ray for your child at an Urgent Care Clinic up in Liverpool Street?
BUTLER: Yes. The condition is they must have access to imaging. So x-rays and pathology as well. Fully free of charge. Now some of them might be next door or a little bit down the road and some of them will be in the same building. But they must have timely access to imaging. So x-rays and pathology, and they're very regularly setting fractures and dealing with a whole lot of the sort of stuff that you've just outlined. They've had 25,000 services already here in Tasmania. They were only opened late last year. We're giving extra money to the 4 existing clinics from the Budget last week because we know that the clinics here in Tasmania are under quite a lot of pressure. So we've given them extra money as well as opening a fifth clinic. Health care systems are under pressure. So there may well be busier times of the day where there's a little bit of a wait. But overwhelmingly, the response we've got from people who are using these, is compared to the 8 or 10, 12 hours you might be waiting in a hospital emergency department. You are seen very quickly in these Urgent Care Clinics.
KAZ: Is that because you're seen and then sent on?
BUTLER: There's actually not a lot of referral on to the hospitals in all of the data that I get. Sometimes, you know, people are going to an Urgent Care Clinic themselves or even being taken there by an ambulance, and it becomes very clear to the doctor: you need to go to a hospital. You may be having a cardiac event or something like that. So there are some referrals to the hospital. Frankly, there are referrals from hospitals to Urgent Care Clinics. If the hospital ED wait is hours and hours and hours and the triage nurse actually doesn't think you need a hospital, you can go to the clinic, there are referrals back as well. I mean, the terrific thing about this is we've negotiated this very carefully with all of the state governments. So we've got clear protocols between the hospital on the one hand, the ambulance service on the other, and the Urgent Care Clinics on the other as well.
TUBES: Just lastly, Minister, it's all well and good to have these clinics and they are taking the pressure off our hospitals, without a doubt, and our GPs. Do we have enough skilled workers to continue having these open as long as they should be?
BUTLER: We're not having any trouble getting staff into these Urgent Care Clinics because GPs and nurses want to work there. They find the work really interesting and exciting. So we've not had a workforce challenge there. We have a general workforce challenge across the country. Indeed, I keep saying this, across the world there is a nursing shortage right across the world. So we're having to bring nurses in from overseas, from the UK and from other countries as well. We need to train more GPS. This year, I'm really glad that the number of junior doctors choosing general practice as their career and training as GPs is up by almost 20%. But we're still not training enough GPs to replace the older GPs who are starting to retire. So there's a big challenge ahead of us.
TUBES: Well, it's great to have you here. Minister for Aged Care and Health, Mark Butler, thank you so much for making yourself available on Triple M.
BUTLER: My great pleasure.


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