Transcript: Press Conference - Maryborough - 3 March 2023



Friday, 3 March 2023

Subjects: Aged care staffing requirements, critical workforce shortages, the Regional Health Workforce Summit


ANNE WEBSTER MP, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR REGIONAL HEALTH: Fantastic to be down here in beautiful, sunny Maryborough today. We've come down for a reason, because in Mallee I have four aged care facilities that are really struggling. Struggling with new rules, with new requirements, and it is so incredibly important that our aged care facilities can continue and be sustainable into the future. Every family wants their loved one looked after and cared for, and Havilah here in Maryborough is a classic example of a top-class facility where people are loved and cared for. And I've been in discussions with Havilah over the last few months about the difficulties here and looking for solutions, linking them to the Department. I've brought the Shadow Minister for Health, Anne Ruston here today so that she could hear what is going on the ground and so that we can work collaboratively together to see changes. Thanks, Anne.

SENATOR ANNE RUSTON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE: Thank you very much Anne, and it's fantastic to be here in Maryborough. It's part of a journey that I've been taking around Australia, visiting aged care facilities to understand the implications of the new requirements that are going to be brought in and mandated on the 1st of July and the 1st of October, and that's the 24/7 registered nurses onsite and the required care minutes. The great challenge that we have, particularly in rural and regional Australia, is that we know we have got real workforce shortages and the requirements that are being placed on these nursing homes to meet these care minutes, which we all want to see because we all want to see older Australians getting the care that they need and they deserve. But in the absence of being able to get access to registered nurses and to be able to have them meet the requirements of the Government's legislation, the Government needs to answer what happens to these homes if they aren't able to make those care minutes. Are they going to be shutting them down? So, it's great to be here today speaking to the board of this particular aged care facility, but the story is the same across the whole of Australia, every single nursing home. The further you get away from the metropolitan areas, the harder they're doing it in terms of getting access to staff. And so, we need to make sure that we're doing some real and tangible things, making recommendations and putting pressure on the Government so they understand the difference between a nursing home in regional Maryborough and a nursing home in metropolitan Melbourne. So Craig, would you want to say anything specifically about your particular circumstance?

CRAIG YOUNG, CEO OF HAVILAH: I'd just like to thank both our local member Anne Webster and the Shadow Minister Anne Ruston for joining us today. Just to reiterate the comments that both members have had to say about the challenges facing aged care, I think the underlying message that I'd like to convey is that one size does not fit all. So, as the Shadow Minister has indicated, that what might work in metropolitan Melbourne does not necessarily overlay into regional Victoria. So we're continuing to look at innovative ways of attracting staff to regional Victoria. I sit on the Maryborough Chamber of Commerce, but the common challenges across regional Victoria is to find those staff to come into regional Victoria. So again, just to reiterate the message that one size does not fit all and it will be interesting to see how regional Victoria, and regional Australia more broadly, will be supported as the aged care sector continues to go through change. There's increasing compliance obligations. The Shadow Minister has just indicated the new rules that are coming in place on the 1st of July and the 1st of October. So again, whilst we understand that those compliance requirements are in place, it does mean that there's ongoing compliance costs that we as an organisation need to incur, whereas we would like to be focusing all our efforts on providing quality care to our residents. So again, I'd like to thank the Shadow Minister and our local member for being here today and to actually see the service that Havilah provides to its community. We've just recently opened our new facility, the Terrace, which hosts 24 beds. So, we're very proud of that and it's an indication of the quality service that Havilah has been providing for an excess of 28 years. So again, I'd just like to thank both Anne Webster and Anne Ruston for being here today. So thank you very much.

SENATOR RUSTON: Okay fire away. Any follow up questions for anyone?

JOURNALIST: So, you've touched on this, but what was the purpose and the outcome of today?

SENATOR RUSTON: Well, the main purpose is actually to hear firsthand. You know, you can sit in Canberra and read a whole heap of briefs, or you can actually get out of Canberra and come and actually speak to the people on the ground. And that's what I've done today. I think the outcome of today is, sadly, this is just another fantastic regional aged care facility that is being put under extraordinary pressure because of their inability to meet a requirement simply because workforce doesn't exist. And so, it just adds to one more fantastic facility that is potentially going to be put under a lot of pressure come the 1st of July, through no fault. Best endeavours are being made to try and find these staff, but they just don't exist.

JOURNALIST: This follows on - You had a roundtable in Mildura yesterday, is that correct?

SENATOR RUSTON: That's correct. And Anne Webster probably is the one that should be speaking on that, but I just want to say it was an absolutely amazing opportunity over the last two days to speak to people in the Mildura area, but also people came from every state and territory, all the peak bodies. There were doctors, there were nurses, there were allied health workers, all there talking about the specific issues that face rural and regional communities. And to the point of the one-size-fits-all model, it does not work. Once again, like with aged care, the further you get away from a metropolitan area, the challenges keep changing. They become more intense and more acute. But the same issues facing healthcare are facing aged care, and that is workforce shortages. But Anne was the one who put the conference together.
ANNE WEBSTER MP: Health is one of the most important issues that I think every one of us faces and when I did my maiden speech in Parliament, it was one of the key points that I made, that your health status should not depend on your postcode, and yet too often it does. In Mallee, we have 35% less GPs than in urban Melbourne. That's deeply concerning. The crisis that I constantly hear about, and it is referred to by the health professionals themselves as a crisis, in terms of workforce, in terms of the resources that they need to meet our needs out in the regions, is at a critical point. So much so that I was recently appointed the Shadow Assistant Regional Health Minister, and in that role it was just - It's always smart as Senator Ruston has just said to inquire of the locals, so to speak, and I invited all of the peak bodies. And I've got to say most of the peak bodies in health, presidents and CEOs, turned up, as well as doctors and nurses and paramedics and allied health from all over Australia. Every state and territory was represented, so it was an incredible event. Dr. Nick Coatsworth, I asked to facilitate. He did a wonderful job on the evaluation forms that I've received back. You know, he was a cracker and we loved having him and he did a very sensitive job allowing people to speak, and the way we set up the two days was to have working groups where people could say whatever they wanted to say. It was from grassroots up, and I think all the peak bodies were thrilled with it. All of the locals were thrilled with it. And from all of those who work in regional Australia health, it was very meaningful. And now the work, of course, is to work on policy that makes healthcare doable and achievable and sustainable in regional Australia. And that's what I'm focussed on.

JOURNALIST: Going on from that, what needs to be done?

ANNE WEBSTER MP: Well, look, many things came out of the Summit. We did a brief summary yesterday, which I'm really pleased that Dr. Nick Coatsworth took directly to Brendan Murphy, the Secretary of the Health Department, so all that discussion is already immediately taking place. And my work now is to actually collate all of the data, because it's a lot of data that we filmed, and to present the policies discussed obviously with my senior Minister Anne Ruston and look at where we're going heading towards the next election. I mean, obviously we're in Opposition at the moment, so we'll be developing policy and of course putting pressure on the current government to ensure that some steps, which don't cost a lot of money, are actually put in place so that regional health care is viable and people can continue working in health care across the regions.

ANNE RUSTON: I think to the point of some of the specific initiatives that came out of the meeting yesterday, there's some quite simple ones that could be implemented immediately. First and foremost, return to the Distribution Priority Areas that were previously in place under the previous government. We've seen an immediate change by the new government that means that now there is no longer a requirement for bonded graduates and international medical graduates to go out to rural and regional areas. They can now go into the city and practice. So, there's been a great advantage that used to be available to rural and regional Australia that no longer is. We also call on the Government to actually fast-track the 887 visas, which are regional skilled visas, because at the moment they're in the go-slow lane. And so those people who actually want to move into regional areas who are in critical workforce areas like doctors, nurses, teachers, childcare workers are being put in the slow lane when they should be in the sped up line. The other things that we could do would be just make sure that our migration is streamlined. Other OECD countries in the world have got quicker processes and are able to get critical workers into the country. So, there are lots of really quick and easy things that came out of the meeting yesterday that could be implemented, as well as some of those medium and long-term things about the structural change to make sure that regional healthcare has got the same priority and the same equity proposition for people living in regional Australia which people in the metropolitan areas take for granted.
JOURNALIST: Sorry last one for me. There's a lot of pressure on the aged care and health care system at the moment. Does the whole health system need a refresh?
SENATOR RUSTON: Well, I think the challenge that's before us right now that is critical is workforce. So, there's no point addressing anything until we address the fact that we do not have enough doctors and nurses and other allied health workers. But, you know, do we need to shake up particularly the health sector in the way that it operates? Yes, I think there's always an opportunity for us to have a look at doing things better. You know, right now, technology, digital opportunities are things that weren't available when Medicare was first put in. So, I think there is a need for us to actually look at modern ways to deliver medicine. And that's why we're calling on the Government, particularly as you get into more remote communities, to come up with innovative models of care. Because if you can't get a registered nurse or there isn't a doctor in your community, you shouldn't be denied access to healthcare, particularly if you have the ability to do it in another innovative way. Whether that's expanding telehealth to support the communities, whether it's through digital health mechanisms, we need to make sure that we are being innovative about how we approach health going forward because critical workforce shortages are not going to go away any time soon.

JOURNALIST: I was just wondering, at the roundtable yesterday, were there any issues, you know, relevant to the Maryborough area that were raised?

ANNE WEBSTER MP: Actually one of your very good doctors, Dan Wilson, who is the rural RDAV Chair President, was on my table and he had a lot to say, and collaboratively with everyone else on my table, about the mechanisms that should be looked at. And look, I think we had so much material. I was just thinking when the Senator was speaking that we had so much material. Now it's a matter of doing the proper analysis work to see where the majority of views sit, where the themes are and where the actions go from there. So, the Maryborough community were very well represented in Dan and Nicole and Robin who came, and they were separated, of course, around the room, and it was very meaningful. It was very, very good. So, we'll be providing that feedback to those who attended in the next short while.

JOURNALIST: I was just going to ask on the information about how the councils in the region have scrapped in-home aged care support. I was wondering, what's the Shadow Minister's view on that?

SENATOR RUSTON: Well, obviously, the greatest challenge that we have at the moment is workforce. And we know that in rural and regional areas, with the best of intent and the best of commitment, that many providers, and that includes councils, are not able to get access to workforce. So I think, as I said before, the challenge that we must solve and we must solve with greater urgency is dealing with workforce challenges. And part of that is going to mean that we're going to have to fast-track migration. We need to make sure that we are incentivising young people who are currently studying to not just go into nursing and not just go into medicine, but to actually do it in rural and regional areas, because we're seeing ever more of our health professionals moving from regional areas into the city, which is just putting the pressure on all of these providers across the whole of regional Australia. Thank you.


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