Television interview with Minister Butler and Madeleine Morris, ABC News Breakfast - 27 April 2023

Read the transcript of Minister Butler's interview with Madeleine Morris on cheaper medicines.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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MADELEINE MORRIS, HOST: The Federal Health Minister Mark Butler joins us now from Adelaide. Great to have you on the program, Mr Butler. 


MORRIS: This is now a real war of world between the Pharmacy Guild and yourself. The Guild say that 40 per cent of the 320 medicines on that list are already in shortage. You say it's 7, not 7 per cent, 7. How is there such a disparity in your assessments? 

BUTLER: I'd advise your viewers and everyone else involved in this debate to take advice on medicine shortages from the medicines authorities who are set up under law to monitor these things, rather than advice from the pharmacy lobby. The advice I received is 7 of the 325 medicines are experiencing shortages right now. Your viewers would be aware there are global supply constraints that are really a hangover from COVID that are causing some supply problems right across the world. Seven out of these 325 medicines is the advice I've received from the medicines authorities. In addition, some brands of medicines are in short supply as well but the advice to me from the medicines authorities is there are alternative brands available, for example, for people who need cholesterol medication or blood pressure medication. I think this is a case of the pharmacy lobby seeking to ramp up concerns that people might have about a policy that just makes good sense, that was advised to me by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee. It was advised to the former government five years ago, but they did nothing in spite of the enormous cost relief it gives to many millions of patients. But what I’d add Madeleine, if you think about this for three or four minutes, the idea that this change is going to cause supply problems is patently ridiculous. The number of tablets dispensed for cholesterol, for blood pressure, heart disease and other things in between now and next Christmas is not going to change one bit because of this policy. It is simply going to change the shape of the way in which people have to attend pharmacies and have to shell out co-payment to their local pharmacist. 

MORRIS: On that co-payment, will you increase the dispensing fee to pharmacists? That's clearly a place they will lose out. Every time they fill out a scrip, they get some money and if they do that half the amount of times for these medicines, they'll lose out. 

BUTLER: I've said every dollar the government saves from this measure - and that's substantial, about $1.2 billion that the Government will save from fewer dispensing and handling fees paid by taxpayers to pharmacists - every single dollar of that saving will be ploughed back into community pharmacy. I want to see pharmacies do more to support the health of customers and patients. I know that's what pharmacists want and their customers as well. Over coming days we will release details of those investments, but we are not going to book any save from this measure. As a Government, we're going to make sure we reinvest these savings, to get pharmacists out from behind the counter simply processing repeat prescriptions and instead delivering high-quality services to customers that I know they're capable of doing with all of their training and all of their experience and I know they want to do because they've been telling me that for years. 

MORRIS: Can I move you on to another matter affecting the health care system and that's Clare O'Neil announcing an overhaul of the migration system today. So many of our health workers in Australia are overseas born, will there be changes that affect health care staff? 

BUTLER: You'll have to wait and see what Clare O'Neil announces. She's conducted a thorough review of the migration system and it's been found to be slightly chaotic, frankly, and slow at delivering what the country needs through a functional migration system. She'll report on the Government’s intentions arising out of that review at her address at the Press Club today. Certainly, this is something health employers talk about all the time, whether its state government hospital systems, private hospitals, or GP practices, particularly in rural practices that are crying out for GPs to work in their consulting rooms and deliver services to their community. We've been working on that as a group of Health Ministers. We've commissioned a very thorough review of that system that looks, for example, at the visa processing times it takes for a nurse from the UK or from Ireland to come here and start working as quickly as possible on the floor in one of our hospitals. And we've got visa processing time down very dramatically by employing more staff in the Home Affairs Department conducting that work. But we're looking at other ways in which we can really streamline the process of recruiting people overseas to come and work in our hospitals, in our general practice surgeries and the like to make sure that we have a health system that functions as well as it possibly can. 

MORRIS: Can I ask you, because our time is short - housing. According to the Anglicare housing report which has just come out, the average enrolled nurse spends 60 per cent of their income on rent. Given the cost of rent and given pay of nurses, why would anyone become a nurse? How will you be able to address that, that’s a key issue? 

BUTLER: Obviously, one of the things we've done is recognise the very low wages that people receive in the aged care sector. We supported a wage case conducted in the Fair Work Commission that will deliver a 15 per cent pay increase to nurses in the aged care sector, who have traditionally been paid less than their colleagues working in the hospital system, for example. Because we recognise that in too many care sectors, usually worked by women overwhelmingly, the wages have been too low and haven’t reflected - first of all - the cost of living and rent that is critical among those pressures and the value of the work they deliver to their community. That's obviously been a focus of a Labor government as you would expect it to be. 

MORRIS: We'll have to leave you there, Mark Butler. Thank you very much. 

BUTLER: Thanks, Madeleine. 


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