Television interview with Minister Butler and Lisa Miller, ABC News Breakfast - 4 April 2024

Read the transcript of Minister Butler's interview with Lisa Miller on Medicare Urgent Care Clinic's hitting the major milestone of 250,000 visits; gender inequality in healthcare.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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LISA MILLAR, HOST: The federal government is celebrating a milestone for its Medicare Urgent Care Clinics, with more than 250,000 visits across Australia. Joining us now from Adelaide is the Health Minister, Mark Butler. Good morning to you, Minister. Thanks for coming on the show.
MILLAR: Who's been using these clinics? What are you making of those numbers?
BUTLER: These are open seven days a week. And essentially, they're catering for people who need urgent care but for non-life-threatening emergencies, so they don't need to go to a hospital. Really interestingly, we've found that about 30% of all of the patients going through these clinics are under the age of 15. So they're often parents bringing in their young ones or their teenagers who might have fallen off the skateboard and busted their wrist. I mean, they need urgent attention, they probably can't get into their usual GP, but they don't actually need to go to a hospital emergency department. So we're finding that's a very significant part of the throughput. And talking to those parents and other patients, they find it really convenient that there's somewhere to get care, when and where they need it in the community, instead of potentially spending eight, ten or even more hours in a crowded hospital emergency department.
MILLAR: So you are getting the sense that this is taking the pressure off hospitals? It's not a case of people making use of medical care that they might not otherwise have made use of?
BUTLER: No, it's very clear that these clinics are only supposed to cater for patients who need their urgent care - they're the only Medicare items that are available at these clinics. And we're finding patients and the doctors and nurses are cooperating with that system very, very well. We're also finding that about half of the patients who come into these clinics, when asked, say that if the clinic wasn't open, they would have gone to the local hospital. Local hospitals are saying they're finding that those less urgent presentations are starting to drop as well, which is obviously relieving pressure on hospital systems that are really feeling pressure, particularly after the three or four years of a once-in-a-century pandemic. So this really achieves two things: it gives patients the care they need in the community, when and where they need it, but also takes that pressure off crowded hospital emergency departments
MILLAR: Yeah, so there's 58 of them. What's the plan? More?
BUTLER: We'd like to see more of them. The Prime Minister committed to that at the National Cabinet meeting in December. We're working through that process now. This has always been a bit of a gap in the Australian healthcare system. Many other countries we usually compare ourselves to do have that intermediate idea of care between the standard general practice, that your viewers would be familiar with, and a fully equipped hospital emergency department. So we only open 58 of them. We wanted to be able to track them and evaluate them and make sure they were working the way we wanted to, and then look at scaling them up. And we're very keen to look at doing that this year.
MILLAR: Just on the Prime Minister, he's giving a speech today, giving a bit of a hint of what might come with budget relief, uh, energy relief for our viewers out there. How desperately is that needed in your view? And what are you pushing for in your portfolio to give relief to people who are suffering so much from cost of living?
BUTLER: Cost of living, obviously is really the most significant pressure in the Australian community, as it is right around the world, right now. It's impacting households and it's also impacting small businesses, which is the audience the Prime Minister will be talking to today, and he'll be saying that small business, as well as households, are front and centre as we go about our work. I'm a member of the Expenditure Review Committee, we're working very hard right now to prepare the Budget that will be delivered in about six weeks time. And helping households, but also small business, with those inflationary pressures that we're seeing right across the global economy, including here in Australia, is the highest priority that we have.
MILLAR: Well, it's tricky finding that balance, isn't it, between putting more stimulus into the economy because you're going to have the tax cuts coming through, stimulus from the budget that people are needed. You're struggling to still get that inflation down to where it needs to be.
BUTLER: We came to government in a very high inflationary environment. The highest quarter of inflation was the one before we came to government in early 2022. So we've been working in a way that's really been unfamiliar to Australia for some decades now, in trying to make sure that we support households and businesses, while not adding to the inflationary pressure that is pushing up interest rates as well. And that balance is still something, again, we have very much front of mind as we prepare for the Budget in May.
MILLAR: Minister, before you go, I just want to talk to you about the death of the aid workers in Gaza, including Australian Zomi Frankcom. The founder of the aid group has today said that Israel has been systematically targeting cars of aid workers. We've heard lots of anger and outrage. Does the Australian Government need to be doing more right now to express that outrage?
BUTLER: As many of your viewers would know, the Prime Minister had a call with Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, about 24 hours ago, and he did express very deep anger and outrage on behalf of the Government, but most importantly, the Australian people at this death. He also indicated very clearly our expectation that there would be full transparency and full accountability, a position reinforced by Penny Wong to her Foreign Minister counterpart in Israel, as well. We expect that transparency and that accountability. This is an utterly outrageous death of a woman and her colleagues who were doing so much to help others in deeply, distressing circumstances. So we do expect full accountability for these deaths.
MILLAR: Look, I should just ask you also, we've got a story we're running today about, um, the Medicare gender bias, which you've acknowledged yourself as being there. Our reporter Claudia Long, diving into that, she says, well, there are calls for a review of that, women are ending up not having the rebates they should have, that it's meant they're not getting the care they should get. Why are you hesitating to actually say we need a review when you've acknowledged that there is an issue?
BUTLER: I'm not saying that we don't need a review. We were very clear as we came into the election that we were concerned about really quite a structural bias in the healthcare system against women. Ged Kearney, the Assistant Minister for Health, has been working very hard on this with the Women's Health Advisory Council. We've undertaken a very comprehensive survey of women across Australia about their experiences in healthcare, and that has reinforced the position that Claudia Long has written about, I think very well, in her articles - that there is real structural bias in the system. You know, we've started to work on this by opening endometriosis and pelvic pain clinics across Australia. That was one gap in the healthcare system identified by our work. But there is much more to do. And Ged is working very, very hard with the Women's Health Advisory Council to provide us as government with some advice about how we work through these issues. We're not going to be able to deal with them overnight. Many of them are deep structural issues, but we are determined to improve women's equality in the health care system.
MILLAR: But no review?
BUTLER: There is a review underway right now by this Women's Health Advisory Council, that we commissioned to work through the healthcare system, not just the Medicare Benefits Schedule, that Claudia Long's piece focuses on, but much more broadly than that in the healthcare system as well. So I think we've got some really good work underway, really very deliberatively looking through those things that women very understandably complain about, in terms of their experience in the healthcare system, we’ll do absolutely what we can to address those inequalities.
MILLAR: Minister, I hope you get to enjoy some of the festival of football this weekend in Adelaide.
BUTLER: Adelaide is the place to be. I mean, I'd say it's always the place to be, but particularly this weekend, it's going to be terrific. About half of the tickets sold are for people from outside of Adelaide, and they'll get to experience some of the terrific hospitality that we're, I think, understandably famous for.
MILLAR: All right, Minister, thanks for your time this morning.
BUTLER: Thanks, Lisa.

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