17 February 2023
Subjects: Senate Estimates, Strengthening Medicare Taskforce, workforce shortages, Urgent Care Clinics
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Senator Anne Ruston is the Shadow Health Minister and she's been involved in Estimates. She's on the line with us. Senator, good morning.
SENATOR ANNE RUSTON: Good morning, Stephen.
CENATIEMPO: A lot of finger pointing at the previous Government from this current Government. But when it comes to health policy, there's been a number of - I want to call them backflips, but I guess - turnarounds from what we might have expected before the election?
SENATOR RUSTON: Well, I think what we saw, and what is starting to unfold very obviously as we go forward, is that this government made an awful lot of promises coming into the election, and in this area of health and aged care there were some pretty big ones, but now that they are actually in government, they're finding it very difficult to deliver them. And so I think we saw a lot of promise, but not much delivery. You know, they went to the election and they said they were going to put the care back into aged care. They went to the election and said they were going to strengthen Medicare. And so far, we've seen Medicare weakened, and I've got to tell you, the state of our aged care sector at the moment is only being further damaged by the actions of the Government. So yeah, lots of promises and delivery is going in the wrong direction.
CENATIEMPO: I want to for a moment talk about healthcare in a broader sense because there has been a suggestion that there will be reforms to Medicare. Very reminiscent of what a previous Coalition Government tried to do and was pilloried for. But you've made the comment that you don't think these moves, these amendments, go far enough?
SENATOR RUSTON: Well, I think the challenge that we have is that we've got to stop talking about sort of aspirational goals. If we actually are going to do something about the problems and the challenges that are before us right now, you need real and tangible actions. You need measures to be put in place. And what we saw from eight months of deliberation of the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce was a whole heap more - Nobody could argue with the comments that were in the Taskforce's Report. They all sounded fine, but how are you going to deliver them? When are you going to deliver them? How much are they going to cost? Where's the money coming from? Who's going to implement them? There was none of this in there. So, we just seem to be just talking all this fluffy motherhood stuff with very good intentions, but they're not delivering anything. And I think Australians, after eight and a half months of talk, have every right to expect their government to actually be doing something.
CENATIEMPO: The other thing that I have an issue with is these Urgent Care Clinics that have been announced. Now, Katy Gallagher, the Finance Minister, says she expects to see some, I guess some benefits from these by the end of the financial year. My concern is that they'll follow the same pattern as our walk-in clinics here in the ACT, and just created a further bottleneck for emergency departments and hospitals. And more importantly, it doesn't address the shortage of GPs. You've got to have somebody to man these centres.
SENATOR RUSTON: That is absolutely the number one issue before us at the moment in all of our care sectors, whether it be aged care, healthcare or disability care, is we have a workforce crisis. There are shortages of GPs, there's shortages with nurses, there's shortages right the way across the care sector. And so coming up with some idea that you're going to implement 50 new Urgent Care Clinics without the staff to staff them, it doesn't actually change anything. But it'll be very interesting to see how Katy Gallagher faces up to the next Estimates, which will be at the end of May. Because she made some pretty big statements yesterday about how these Urgent Care Clinics were going to be up and running by the end of the financial year. Not one of them has been started in terms of the development. We've got three registrations of interest out for three of the 50 as we sit here today, and I understand Tasmania may have moved a little bit on them, but nothing's happened, nothing's started. All we're talking about is paperwork at the moment, and yet we're supposed to have them up and running in the space of about four months. So I will certainly be asking Katy Gallagher at the next Estimates just how many Urgent Care Clinics are going to be up and running and just how many Australian patients are going to be seen by these Urgent Care Clinics? Just how many additional medical services are going to be provided by them? Because I think you'll find they come up wanting again.
CENATIEMPO: I think you might be right. I'm sure we'll talk to you before then, but I look forward to talking to you around May when that second round of Estimates happens. Senator, good to talk to you this morning.
SENATOR RUSTON: Thanks for having me, Stephen.