Television interview with Minister Butler and Sarah Abo, Today Show - 4 April 2024

Read the transcript of Minister Butler's interview with Sarah Abo on Medicare Urgent Care Clinics hitting the major milestone of 250,000 visits.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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SARAH ABO, HOST: Paramedics in Victoria are kept from responding to other emergencies for up to eight hours, with ambulances left stuck outside a Melbourne hospital for hours due to extensive hospital delays. To discuss, let's bring in Health Minister Mark Butler, who is at an urgent care clinic in Adelaide. Minister, thanks so much for your time this morning. Now, it's not just Victoria of course, as you know, this ramping is happening right across the country. We know how bad it is in Queensland as well. What is the solution here? I feel like we're talking about it so often.
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: We are. It's not just across Australia, hospital systems right across the world are still really suffering from the after effects of the Covid pandemic. Lots of care that people weren't getting during the pandemic, you know, people are experiencing much more acute symptoms of conditions because of those pandemic restrictions. So this is a global phenomenon.
Really what we're trying to do as a federal government to support our state colleagues who operate hospital systems is, first of all, increased funding for hospitals. The National Cabinet meeting in December agreed more than $14 billion of additional funds from the Commonwealth Government to state hospital systems over coming years. But also, really in our area of responsibility, to rebuild general practice. Because we've been hearing that it's so difficult to find a doctor, too often people are feeling their only alternative is to go to the hospital emergency department, even if their condition really isn't a life-threatening condition that you would usually see at a hospital. So building this network of Medicare Urgent Care Clinics, as well as supporting standard general practice, is really our job as the Commonwealth Government.
And I'm delighted, only some months into the Urgent Care program, already 250,000 patients have been able to go to a clinic for a non-life-threatening emergency - many of them are kids - and see someone, seven days a week, fully bulk billed, instead of going to a hospital.
ABO: I mean, that absolutely is an excellent solution. I suppose the question is whether it's enough. I mean, you would have seen those concerns in regional Victoria about hospitals facing inevitable closures following a statewide directive to slash costs to health services. Obviously, this is a Victoria Government issue. We know they're plagued with debt. But should the federal government step in here and that funding you were talking about be directed to those regions who desperately need it?
BUTLER: Ultimately, it's a matter for the Victorian Government to work out where the additional Commonwealth funds are distributed. But you're right to say that this Medicare Urgent Care Clinic program is still relatively new. We promised it at the last election. We were able to fulfil our promise to open more than 50 clinics before the end of last year. But we'd like to see more of these opened. They're really only scaling up now. They're seeing about 10,000 patients per week across the country. We'd like that to be more so. We've committed to opening more of them. It's all about taking pressure off our hospital emergency departments so that they can focus on the truly life-threatening emergencies they were built for, and people who do need to see someone urgently, because their kid falls off the skateboard and breaks their arm. Those people can see someone in the community, open seven days a week, extended hours and importantly, as I said, Sarah, fully bulk billed.
ABO: Hopefully some will open in regional areas because that's just terrifying for those living in rural communities to think hospitals there could close. I just want to get to Minister as well, if I can, I mean, there are calls this morning from the family of killed Australian aid worker Zomi Frankcom for a war crimes investigation into the IDF soldiers responsible. Will the government support the family's calls?
BUTLER: The Prime Minister said yesterday that he'd had a call with the Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu, and made very clear Australia's outrage and anger at the killing of Zomi Frankcom and her colleagues over the last 48 hours or so, and our very clear expectation as Australians and as the Australian Government that there would be full transparency and full accountability with a very clear investigation as to how these terrible deaths occurred. And we were assured by the Israeli Government that would happen. And we'll be following that very, very closely.
ABO: All right. Let's see if that accountability follows. Thanks so much for your time this morning.

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