16 March 2020

ANTHONY CHISHOLM, LABOR SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: So it's great to be in Maryborough with Chris Bowen, Shadow Minister for Health who's made the trip up from Sydney today and I'd really love to think Francis Medical Doctors for the invitation to have a roundtable here where we can really get a sense of the ongoing health issues. And I think it's fair to say what we've seen developing Maryborough this year is a health crisis and a doctor shortage crisis. We know that they've had a clinic close down on Bazaar Street. We know that there is a doctor shortage here with the medical practice where they are no longer taking new patients as a result of that. But what we also know is that in the local member here Llew O'Brien has done absolutely nothing about it. He's been too busy playing Canberra games. He's been too busy focused on trying to get Barnaby Joyce back as Deputy Prime Minister rather than working to alleviate some of these health concerns here locally. So it really isn't good enough and that's why it's great that we've got Chris Bowen in town to listen to local residents, listen to the professionals and offer up our voice to ensure that those local concerns are being heard on the national stage. So I'll just hand over to the Francis Medical Practice to say a few words as well.

RACHEL HYNE, FRANCIS FAMILY DOCTORS: Hello, Im Rachel Hyne, Im the Practice Manager at Francis Family Doctors in Maryborough. We have had a position vacant at our practice for over the last twelve months. It's been longer than that now. It's very difficult to attract doctors to our regional town. Our existing doctors have been struggling to cope with the workload and theres recently been a practice in town that has closed and I'm also aware of other practices in town that are struggling with a doctor shortage. It just makes it incredibly difficult to provide the care to patients that we need to. We need some sort of change or some availability of options that gives us the ability to engage and employ doctors in our area.

JOURNALIST: How hard is it to get to patients that need care?

HYNE: Its extremely hard. We have patients phoning us every day needing to get in. Weve had to close our books to new patients because our doctors are struggling to provide care to our regular existing patients. Its heartbreaking to hear their stories. We had one lady recently who phoned us, our practice was the eight practice she had contacted trying to get in to see a doctor. And yeah it just shouldn't be happening. These patients should be able to access primary medical care.

JOURNALIST: In terms of policy, what specifically do you think needs to change?

HYNE: Maryborough is currently a non-DPA area. That allows us no option to engage doctors in Maryborough. Our only option under this non-DPA status is Australian trained or unrestricted doctors. These doctors are nowhere to be found and theyre not responding to our ads, theyre not coming to regional areas and theyre certainly not coming to this area.

CHISHOLM: We might just let Chris say a few words and then well take questions.

CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Anthony Chisholm first raised the issue on the shortage of doctors in Maryborough with me some months ago. He pointed out to me just how desperate the situation is. I was keen to accept his invitation to come to Maryborough and hear firsthand from the doctors and the community. And it's very clear to me that more needs to be done. And this is an issue across regional Australia, across regional Queensland. The LNP Government says they care about their regions but the changes they have implemented are hurting health care provision across regional Australia. Whether it is changes to District of Workforce shortage, Distribution Priority Areas or the ROMPS or Modified Monash changes, bulk billing incentive changes. I asked Mark Coulton about this in Parliament and he had very little idea when it came to the impact on regional Australia. So we're listening today to the concerns. I've been very impressed with the case put to me by the various doctors. Obviously regional health is very important and obviously while we want to see more doctors working in remote and bush areas, we want to see more doctors working in regional areas as well. So this has been a very important visit.

Also particularly today of course my focus, the focus of the Government, of the Opposition is of course on managing Covid-19. Covid-19 knows no borders, it crosses national borders and of course it is not just a disease which will impact on the cities. So I've been keen to learn today about preparedness. I'm glad to hear there have been no diagnosed cases in Maryborough but of course none of us can be complacent. We support all the measures being put in place by the Government yesterday but also much more needs to be done. We need more Telehealth rebates. People shouldn't have to come to the doctor if they're feeling unwell. They should be able to talk to their doctor over the telephone and for that to be covered by bulk billing. At the moment that's only available to a certain group of people and should be available to everyone. We need more and better testing for Covid-19. We need people getting more testing and we're very concerned about reports that the testing equipment is running out. We need to provide more support across the board to GPs and doctors and the community when it comes to public information. There has been I have to say confusing information, a lack of information. We know that the Government was slow to hire the advertising company in relation to the advertisements which have only just started and we really need to be doing better. We support the measures that have been put in place and we support doing more as well.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that there is a Council election underway that could potentially spread the disease?

BOWEN: I'm not an expert on the Queensland Constitution but I imagine that set down on legislation, it is hard to move. That's a matter for the Queensland Government. Regardless of the circumstances whether it is an election, going about our business, people need to engage in social distancing. People need to be aware of their responsibilities when it comes to spreading this disease. While they can still go about our business at this point, its very important (INAUDIBLE) avoid shaking hands. I think people more and more understand that that's not being rude, that's being sensible. Use hand sanitizer, wash your hands very regularly and please if you're starting to feel unwell call your doctor. Don't go to the doctor. Call your doctor in the first instance and make arrangements.

JOURNALIST: Are regional hospitals going to struggle with the bed shortage?

BOWEN: Hospitals across the country will be under pressure, metropolitan and regional. Intensive care beds will be under pressure. That's why we support these steps to slow the spread of this virus. We need to ensure this virus doesn't take hold in Australia. That's the number one priority. But also we need to slow its spread as well to reduce the pressure off hospitals. I know the Queensland Government has very substantial measures in place which we support. And those measures will help in metropolitan and regional Australia.

JOURNALIST: And in Mackay doctors are saying theyre not prepared for an outbreak of coronavirus and there are limited ICU beds. Whats being done outside of the (INAUDIBLE)?

BOWEN: Well there are limited ICU beds but there is limited ICU beds everywhere. Theres around 2,000 beds across the country and thats why every single step needs to be taken so this disease does not take hold in Australia. Now if it takes hold its a substantial portion of Australians will be infected. We know that 80 per cent of those cases will be mild. That's good. That's good but 15 per cent will need to go to hospital and 5 per cent will need intensive care. Now five per cent of a big number results in a lot of people being admitted to intensive care. That's why we cannot let this disease take hold in Australia.

JOURNALIST: Just on panic buying, do you encourage people to be sensible?

BOWEN: I do. I do. I encourage people to be sensible in their purchases. I understand people are stocking up. Nothing wrong with that. But panic buying leads to panic buying. When people go to the shops and see empty shelves they feel they have no choice but to buy whatever's there. And it's a vicious cycle. So let's look out for each other. Let's not try and buy everything on the shelves. Let's buy a sensible proportion for ourselves. Let's look out for our neighbors and our friends. Let's be respectful to the staff in the supermarket. If the shelves are empty it's not their fault. The shelves are empty. The staff are doing their best. Let's not give them a serve. They don't deserve to serve. Let's work together and get through this.

JOURNALIST: A man in Mackay was turned away from being tested for coronavirus on Friday because he couldnt afford the fees, no bulk billing services were available. What needs to be done to ensure that that doesnt

BOWEN: I'll look at that case very seriously that I wasn't aware of that case and that's very concerned, deeply concerning and concerns the Opposition.

JOURNALIST: And just going back to obviously why youre here today, were all the concerns from the doctor the same about it being a non-DPA area?

BOWEN: Yeah I think it's fair to say the doctors at Maryborough speak with one voice. I'm sure that they are united in their concerns. They want to see more doctors in Maryborough, that's what they want. They want more doctors. I asked how long it takes to see a doctor in Maryborough and unless its urgent it can be two weeks. That's not good enough. That's not good enough. And it's not good enough for the people of Maryborough. Somebody needs to focus on this. The local member Llew O'Brien should focus on it. Mark Coulton the Minister should focus on it. We understand there's a lot going on in the Health portfolio at the moment. This issue is not going to go away.

JOURNALIST: What are the medical needs like here in Maryborough?

BOWEN: Well this area has, it's fair to say, great health challenges. The health results for people in Maryborough could be better. Now service provision is an important part of that. It's not the only part but getting more doctors is an important part of improving the health of people that live in Maryborough and it should be an important priority for the Health Minister.