TASMANIA TALKS: 29/04/2022

April 29, 2022




SUBJECTS: Health services in Tasmania; Labor will build a new hospice in Launceston; telehealth.


MIKE O'LOUGHLIN, HOST: I've got on the line, as the Federal election campaign does continue, Labor's Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing Mark Butler - in Launceston today, making an announcement regarding health. So I thought we'd check in with Mark, get some details.

Mark, good morning to you. You would have heard that last caller?

MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGEING: I did, very distressing. I'd be keen to follow that up with Senator Helen Polley who I'm seeing later this morning, to see if she is able to look into that. DNA testing is not the sort of sophisticated thing it was some years ago, and for the life of me I don't understand why it's not more widely available, particularly in a sexual assault case. Highly traumatised victims and their families having to travel long distances to get pretty basic tests, I think is a question that's always very right to ask.

O'LOUGHLIN: You’ve hit the nail on the head with the word “traumatise”. I mean, I would have thought these tests would be something that could be conducted anywhere. I mean, pardon my ignorance.

BUTLER: I'm the same. I obviously would want to look into it a little bit more closely as to whether there is a genuine reason, but this is a challenge every time I come to Tasmania, and I come a lot, you know Mike. It is the most distributed population in the country, not like my state of South Australia, where pretty much everyone lives in one city, the city of Adelaide.

The distribution of health services to match the distribution of where people live in Tasmania is a real challenge here. I think particularly when people are very unwell, particularly when they're old and frail, and especially when they're traumatised through a sexual assault, not having services available to people where they live, I think is a real problem.

O'LOUGHLIN: We'll make sure we'll send you those details so you can follow that up Mark, I'd be grateful for that. Now, you're making a major announcement today in regard to health, obviously so important, and here in Launceston.

BUTLER: I'm really excited about this. I've talked with Friends of Northern Hospice now for some time, and they're just an absolutely terrific community group here, who for many years have been making the case, a very logical case, for more hospice services here in Launceston. I'm really pleased to announce that if we were elected, we would provide $5 million to kickstart the building of a new hospice here in Launceston, wanting to work closely with the Tasmanian Government, I hope under a new Premier, I get a sense of a new Premier, would be willing to partner with the Federal Government to deliver this thing that the community has wanted for years now since the closure of the Philip Oakden House, now 15 years ago.

O'LOUGHLIN: Yeah, that's a long time ago. I didn't realise 15 years already, good heavens. Well, if it's $5 million, I mean, that's a great kick-off but will a Federal Labor Government fund the rest of the project? Or will it need state funding? I mean, you just touched on state there, will be left over to state?

BUTLER: This thing will probably go within the LGH precinct as part of the master plan there and that's obviously a state service. The Commonwealth contributes a lot of funding for states to be able to run their hospital services but this capital funding, this capital injection that we're announcing here, very similar to the commitment that Rebecca White made at the last state election, which obviously she wasn't in a position to deliver given the election result, we think will make a real difference.

The important thing about this is to really bear in mind, a hospice is not just another hospital ward. It needs to be designed and delivered in a way that thinks about the whole family, it can't just be patient-centred, it's about the whole family's experience. And for the life of me, a country as rich and as privileged as Australia is, should be able to guarantee at least two things: a safe birth at the dawn of life and a dignified death at the end of life. We do very well compared to the rest of the world on the end of life, according to all of the surveys, but good quality hospice care across the country is still a challenge for us.

I just think the work that Friends of Northern Hospice have done here is absolutely terrific and they must be at the table to start thinking about how this project will be delivered.

O'LOUGHLIN: Now, I also want to know Labor's plan for health in Tassie. I will also make sure we get equal time for the Liberal plan, you'll understand that Mark of course, at this particular time, but tell me what will Labor's plan include for health in Tassie? This is incredibly important for all of us here.

BUTLER: Absolutely. We've got a lot more to say about this over the course of the more than three weeks, that your listeners will be overjoyed to learn that there still is in this election campaign.

We've already said a lot about what we want to do in health. Over the last several days we announced, for example, a Medicare Urgent Care Service will be delivered here in Launceston. We will deliver three of them in Tasmania. What that will do is make it much easier to see a doctor, cheaper to see a doctor, and importantly take real pressure off the LGH emergency department. Just have a think about those minor emergencies that happen at home, when your kid falls off the skateboard and busts their arm, when you get a very deep cut that needs urgent stitching. We know that it's harder and harder to see a doctor, harder than it's ever been, and frankly more expensive to see a GP. I hear all the time how hard it is to find a bulk build service here in Launceston and gap fees have skyrocketed over the course of this Government.

So we'll deliver an urgent care service so that when those minor emergencies happen instead of having to line up for hours at the emergency department or the LGH, people can get a bulk billed service, they won't pay anything, just produce your Medicare card, in a facility that's open seven days a week from 8 AM to 10 PM.

Where this model works overseas, New Zealand's probably the best example, it makes it much easier to see a doctor when you have these minor emergencies and it takes real pressure off the hospitals because we know hospitals are built for once in a lifetime emergencies like a heart attack or stroke, or a major car accident. These minor emergencies could be cared for quite adequately outside of a hospital setting.

O'LOUGHLIN: Mark you're also putting $4 million, I believe, to the Clifford Craig Research hub, I think that's matching the Liberals on that as well. That’s based at the LGH boosting research. Tell me about the $2.8 million to help deliver that new Community Care Tasmania training and respite centre.

BUTLER: I've met with them a number of times. This is a terrific project that's got support from across the aged care and the disability services. I've seen probably three dozen letters from different organisations that are desperately keen for more workers to be trained to deliver these services, aged care services, NDIS services, and we also need more respite beds.

Carers, informal carers, family carers, do such a terrific job caring for their loved ones. Without them our community would be absolutely bereft. But they need respite. They need a place where their loved one could go and spend a few days so that the carer can take some days to look after themselves and take a break. So more respite beds, more opportunities to train more workers in aged care and disabilities is desperately needed here in Northern Tasmania and Community Care Tas will deliver it.

O'LOUGHLIN: We’ve just had a phone call from Nathan, a listener of Tasmania Talks. Nathan called in to say the reason sexual assault survivors need to be taken to Launceston for testing is because Launceston has what's called a DNA cleanroom, which police use to gather evidence from victims to ensure all evidence can be collected correctly and cleanly. Nathan knows this as he used to work there apparently. So that could be the situation - the other hospitals need to push for a DNA cleanroom.

BUTLER: Very much could be. It’s good to have Nathan call in. Can I also say, we’ve also announced a commitment to a new, what's called a Shepherd Centre. This is a service that people on the mainland have enjoyed for years now. It's an early intervention service for very, very young children who have hearing impairments. It's a service that, frankly, Tasmanian families should be entitled to expect, just as they have in Victoria and all the other states on the mainland. This is a wonderful service that's operated for years on the mainland in every single state except Tasmania, and we will deliver a service here in Launceston if we’re elected.

O'LOUGHLIN: We certainly need more in Tasmania, gee this state has been left out for so long, and that's why we push so damn hard. Tell me about $15 million to build a new Tasmanian home for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Something that I believe is very necessary - restoring affordable telehealth psychiatric consultations for people living in Northern Tasmania. Because that is to me, urgently, urgently required.


BUTLER: Well, this just didn't make sense to me, the Government's cut to this telehealth service. What it meant is that you're able to have a consultation with a psychiatrist over video, they've been in place for many, many years, even before the pandemic. 99 per cent of the consults were bulk billed, we know how hard it is to get a bulk billed consultation with a psychiatrist at all. And it's particularly important, as I said, to communities that don't live in the really big cities, and it's really hard to find a psychiatrist.

So why the Government would cut that service now of all times, because we know that mental health issues have skyrocketed through the pandemic, it’s been a highly traumatising period for people. To cut that service now of all times just did not make sense to us and we've committed to reversing it. It’s something the College of Psychiatrists have welcomed, they couldn't understand why the cut was made, and I know in Northern Tasmania and a number of other regional communities across Australia there's been an absolute outcry about this.

O'LOUGHLIN: It's good to talk to you and thank you for taking that question on short notice. I appreciate you answering that as well. I'm glad in one respect the Federal election is on the way because the amount of money being poured into Tasmania is most welcome and desperately needed. So Mark Butler, I do appreciate your time. Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing as well and Member for Hindmarsh, talking about South Australia, I do thank you indeed for your time.

BUTLER: My pleasure, Mike, good to talk to you.