Media event date: 
30 March 2020
Date published: 
31 March 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

DEBORAH KNIGHT:

Mark Coulton is the Minister for Regional Health. He’s on the line for us now.

G’day Minister.

MARK COULTON:

Hi Deb, how are you?

DEBORAH KNIGHT:

Yeah, good, good. It is a real concern, isn’t it, for a lot of these smaller communities with people wanting to get out of the coronavirus hotspots.

MARK COULTON:

Yeah, look, we saw last a week a really strange phenomenon of a lot of the so-called grey nomads heading north into Queensland to wait it out, you know, sort of in outback Queensland or in some of the towns in northern New South Wales.

Exactly the wrong thing to do, because in your introduction you’re alluded to the fact that we have a limited number of hospital beds and services there.

It’s much better that these folks stay at home surrounded where they’ve got the support of their family and friends, but more importantly, stay in the larger centres where there’s a larger number of services that will look after them, should they happen to come in touch with this illness.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:

And a lot of these towns, these communities, often only have one GP or one medical practice for hundreds of kilometres. So if they are inundated with cases, then they’re simply not going to be able to cope.

MARK COULTON:

That’s exactly right. I was speaking to a business owner out there in my electorate on Friday, and he was concerned that there was a whole heap of people turned up, they’re quite demanding because the town had actually closed down the pub that they’re quite famous for and shut down- they’re just doing takeaways meals. A lot of the opal centres had shut down because, obviously, they’re very concerned in these smaller communities about keeping the number of people that are affected to the minimum, and they were quite concerned these people seemed to be completely oblivious to the risk that not only they were presenting to themselves, but to that community.

I think, hopefully, they now think the police may have strongly suggested that they move on and go home, and I think that’s the best advice.

This is not the time for making the best of this and trying to have a holiday. This is a time of actually doing the right thing to protect yourself, your family, but more importantly the wider population as a whole.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:

I’ve had an interesting email from Angelo who lives in the Cooma area around the Snowys in New South Wales. He says that one of the local accommodation venues in that area thought it would be a good idea to email their 1500 client list, advertising – Come to Jindabyne to quarantine and stay at our lodge – driven by the fact that they won’t have a ski season and the owners are concerned about their financial future. But Angelo’s just saying this is a big concern, the town’s only got two medical centres, the only hospital is 60 k’s away in Cooma, and they’ve got very limited resources as it is, and other towns would be in the same boat as us.

What can we do about this though? Apart from just saying, people, look, stay away, obviously the border’s shut in Queensland. But within New South Wales you can travel to these areas. And if you’ve got local businesses advertising, how are you going to counter that?

MARK COULTON:

Look, that is really irresponsible behavior because the other thing is either people who are travelling around are of an older age bracket, and they are the most vulnerable of all.

So there’s was a meeting at Wilcannia this morning where the local community is working out how they can basically be isolated from other places because they have a large Aboriginal population there, they have higher numbers of elderly and people with chronic illness, and working out how they can stop people - they’re on the Barrier Highway, so obviously people will be passing through. But communities are generally concerned. And for anyone to actually override that and encourage people to come in, is highly irresponsible.

The announcements we saw from the Prime Minister and the Premier over the last 24 hours, you’d have to be living under a rock if you didn’t understand that this is a very, very serious situation, and it’s not a time to be taking holidays.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:

And you’ve been chairing this rural health roundtable happening on Fridays. A lot of key issues being brought to the table, stakeholders like rural GPs, the Royal Flying Doctor Service. No doubt this expansion of telehealth services, it’s something that you guys have been crying out for for years. It’s going to make a big difference, yeah?

MARK COULTON:

Yes, certainly. The Flying Doctor Service, they’re probably pioneers in Telehealth. They’ve been doing it for some time. And so a lot of that rural roundtable has been really useful because we’ve got the rural doctors, the Aboriginal medical services, pharmacy, allied health. That’s been an invaluable source of information coming through my office and into the Department to come up with these changes.

The changes to telehealth are twofold. It’ll mean that people can keep in touch with their GP in a timely fashion without having to actually leave their home.

But also, it broadens the range of people who can actually work in medicine, because some of our GPs who are older, who may have chronic health conditions themselves, can work from home servicing their patients without putting themselves at risk.

So this is a big change.

It’s not only just for COVID-19 cases, but actually all cases. Check ups with your psychologist, also expanded to allied health services. So it’s a big deal.

In relation to this, last week we announced an increased data limit for the NBN satellite SkyMuster, so people in the more remote areas can have that extra data to handle more of what they’re doing online.

This is a major shift on how we’re doing things, but very, very relevant for the people in regional Australia.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:

Yeah. It’s good to talk to you, and good to get that update as well Mark, because the regional health community have got just as equal concerns as a lot of the big cities too. Thanks so much for joining us.

MARK COULTON:

Any time. Thanks Deb.