13 January 2023
Subjects: Elective surgery backlogs, Labor Government’s Medicare funding
KENNY HEATLEY: For more on this, I'm joined by Shadow Minister for Health and Aged Care, Anne Ruston. Thanks so much for joining us, Anne. The Australian Medical Association says one in 50 Australians are on this backlog list for public hospitals and that could explode out to half a million patients by the middle of just this year. Firstly, what do you make of that assessment?
ANNE RUSTON: Well, sadly, I don't think any of us should be surprised at the AMA's report today about this explosion in elective surgery backlogs. I mean, we've known for some time the impacts of COVID because of deferred care. You know, people haven't been doing screening, they haven't been doing testing, elective surgery was put on hold, because our hospital systems were responding to COVID. So sadly, it should come as no surprise that we have a real challenge making sure that we catch up on everything that was put aside during the COVID pandemic, necessarily so. But we've known for some time that this was coming to us, and I think Steve Robson's absolutely right. We need a plan. I've been calling for this since I became the Shadow Minister for Health, and I really do think that Australians deserve a plan to deal with this fallout, which inevitably was going to happen after COVID.
HEATLEY: Well, you say necessarily so elective surgery was shut down. But knowing what we know now, are you certain that the cancellation of elective surgeries during the COVID pandemic was the right decision?
RUSTON: Well, obviously, everything that was decided and the decisions that were made during the pandemic were based on the best medical advice that was available at the time. I mean, obviously, the benefit of hindsight means there are some things that may have been done differently. But I think overall, Australia's record - saving many tens of thousands of lives, having a strong economy coming through the pandemic, being the envy of the rest of the world - certainly said that we did a lot right through the pandemic. But unfortunately now, there are some fallouts from that time, and the report from the AMA today I think just highlights what many of us have been saying, and the AMA for that matter have been saying, for some time, is that we need a plan to guide our way out of what has been a lot of deferred care that has gone on over the last three years.
HEATLEY: The biggest problem is not enough people. That is what we're hearing from the medical institutions and the hospitals, and how is throwing billions of dollars going to help the problem if the problem is just a shortage of people?
RUSTON: Well, certainly there is absolutely no doubt that workforce shortages right across the care sector - that's health care, disability care, aged care - are really, really impacting on the outcomes of those sectors for Australians. But, we had a job summit back in September. We haven't really seen much from that. We've had urgent care clinics promised by this government, they were promised to be up and running by the middle of May this year - At this stage we don't even know where they're going to be located. I think there's a lot of things this government could be doing to try and start putting real and practical measures in place to alleviate some of these concerns. But so far, we've seen a lot of admiration of this problem, but we really need real and practical solutions that are actually delivering outcomes and helping start the process of addressing the challenges that are clearly before our health sector at the moment.
HEATLEY: The $750 million promised by the Albanese Government to help fix Medicare, is that enough? Health Minister Mark Butler says it's not something we can fix in one budget. What do you make of his comments on Medicare?
RUSTON: Well, there are a lot of challenges facing the healthcare sector at the moment. Many of them are underpinned by that issue of workforce shortages. And of course, you know, there's no silver bullet to solving this problem. You know, COVID has exacerbated challenges that were before the health sector, even before COVID. So I think we do need to address this in a systematic and responsible way. We need to do that at all levels of government. It's not just a federal government problem - Our states and territories need to be on board with addressing the issues. But so far, I have been really concerned that we've had a lot of talk about what we're going to do and a lot of talk about the problems, but we really haven't seen any tangible solutions or even any small measures put on the ground that are actually going to start addressing these concerns that are constantly being raised by people like the AMA, and the RACGP, about shortages in GPs and shortages in registered nurses that are challenging our aged care workforce. There seems to be a lot of talk about the problems, not so much talk about solutions.
HEATLEY: Okay. Anne Ruston, really appreciate your time this afternoon. Thank you.