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Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Page: 6219


Mr BUTLER (Port AdelaideMinister for Mental Health and Ageing) (10:38): I thank the member for Newcastle for her question and for her ongoing interest in health reform under this government. I was very pleased to conduct a consumer and carer forum in Newcastle during our mental health reform process. That forum was auspiced by the Mental Health Council of Australia but hosted by the member for Newcastle. It was an incredibly valuable forum and I took a lot from it. There were some particularly passionate carers at the forum who gave me some very valuable insights into the ways that they and the family members for whom they are caring interact with emergency departments in hospitals in particular. That is why one of the focuses of the mental health reform package outlined in this year's budget, supported by a $200 million reform fund from the Commonwealth, is to engage with the states about ways in which the experience of people with severe mental illness and their carers presenting at emergency departments can be improved. I took a lot from the Newcastle session about that issue, and it was very important in terms of us developing that position to take to the states at COAG later this year.

As the member for Newcastle has outlined, the area that she represents in New South Wales has benefited greatly from the health reform process. There has been very significant improvement in medical assessment infrastructure in Newcastle, particularly at the Calvary Mater hospital, with eight beds funded by this government for a medical assessment unit. The member for Newcastle has already outlined a number of the diagnostic imaging improvements which have been supported by this government. She would also be aware that the Hunter Urban Division of General Practice is one of the first group of Medicare Locals announced by the Minister for Health and Ageing in the last couple of weeks as well as being a lead implementation site for our e-health reforms, which are so central to the success of our broader health and mental health reform process.

The member for Newcastle would also be aware that this government has greatly supported the Hunter Medical Research Institute, which is something of a nation leader in medical research in the area of mental health. That institute has received support to the tune of $35 million from this government that will allow it continue and expand its valuable research in the area of public discussion of mental health and suicide issues as well as early childhood mental health, which is such a central part of our mental health reform package in this budget.

The member for Newcastle asked particularly about the diagnostic imaging reforms presented in this year's budget. As all members know, and as the member for Newcastle in particular knows, diagnostic imaging is an incredibly important part of the healthcare system and a fast-growing part of healthcare expenditure. In 2009-10, Medicare expenditure on diagnostic imaging was around $2.15 billion, an increase of over 10 per cent on the previous year in spite of a range of supply-side restrictions in the area of MRI licensing, for example. In response to significant advocacy from the sector and the broader community, in last year's budget this government announced a broad review into diagnostic imaging, which has led to the announcement of a $104.4 million diagnostic imaging reform package over the next four years. In particular, that package will do a couple of things. Firstly, it will expand the number of Medicare licensed MRI machines around the country from about 125 to about 200, an increase of over 50 per cent. That particularly will benefit regional communities. Also, we have responded to advocacy from the sector that would allow GPs to refer patients for MRIs directly rather than having to go through a specialist or a physician. From November 2012, children aged 16 and under will receive a Medicare benefit for a GP requested, clinically appropriate MRI service for the first time. That Medicare eligibility will be expanded to Australians over the age of 16 from the following year, 1 November 2013. These are reforms that will significantly improve diagnostic imaging and thereby significantly improve the health of all Australians.