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Transcript of interview with Gary Hardgrave: 4BC, Drive: 13 January 2011: Emergency arrangements for Queensland flood victims

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Minister for Mental Health and Ageing


4BC Drive

Drive with Gary Hardgrave, 13 January 2011

TOPIC: Emergency arrangements for Queensland flood victims

HOST: The Acting Federal Minister for Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, joins us. G'day minister.

BUTLER: G'day Gary.

HOST: Nice to talk with you. You've got some news as well about special short-term emergency health arrangements for flood affected areas. Go for it.

BUTLER: That's right. We've made a number of decisions today to ensure that Queensland Health is, as far as possible during this disaster, looked after, as obviously the work that's being done by Queensland Health - and it's thousands and thousands of hardworking health professionals and health workers that really is at the crux of this. But the Commonwealth is making sure that we're doing all that we can to make sure that the health of Queenslanders is looked after.

Some simple things like this that - we want to make sure that all Queenslanders have access to their medicines. Now a number will have lost their medicines, or their scripts, or even their Medicare or concession cards through this disaster. Some others might find that their pharmacist or their GP is flood affected and they're not able to get there.

We've put in place arrangements that you can go to any pharmacy, with or without your cards or your scripts, and get the medicines that you need, right then and there. They'll make the proper calls to the PBS and we've negotiated arrangements with the Pharmacy Guild. But we don't want anyone going without their medicines because of this disaster.

HOST: And in fact we had some reports yesterday that some pharmacies had in fact closed their doors because their regular range of supplies weren't possible because a couple of big pharmacy warehouses went under water.

BUTLER: Well that's right. And we're monitoring this very closely. And to the extent that is happening - and I'm only aware of one...

HOST: Okay, well, we've heard calls, yeah.

BUTLER: Yeah, but we're making sure that supplies are brought in from other parts of the country, and making sure that supplies around the state match need. Now what that's meant in a couple of places is that some Defence Force helicopters have had to drop some medication supplies to areas of the state that are cut off. But we're absolutely committed to making sure that every Queenslander has the medicines that they need through this disaster.

HOST: Okay, now, Jim Bishop, the Chief Medical Officer, he's a very, very competent public servant, and I think we're lucky to have him. But can I ask - what do we know about people who've been in flood waters? We had Andrew Laming on earlier, he's a doctor, he's been in third-world countries, and I class him as a competent sort of bloke, and he made the point that some of the stuff in the waters that's swirling around some people's homes, people lollygagging in it, some of that stuff in the water could in itself bring along some health complications.

Have you got any warnings that you would normally issue to people about flood waters, the sort of stuff in it.

BUTLER: Look, there's no question about that, Andrew is right about that. I had a long conversation with Jim Bishop a couple of hours ago. His advice to me is that - and to all Queenslanders, for that matter - is that the warnings that Queensland Health is issuing, the fact sheets that are available on their website or by ringing their 13 HEALTH number, are practical and accurate, and his advice to GPs last night, when he held a GP roundtable with Queensland Health professionals, was to use those fact sheets and to spread them all around the place as far as possible. The waters are contaminated. You're - you know, your Premier and other authorities have said that unfortunately the water's got into sewerage areas and things like that...

HOST: Yeah, mate, one of the big sewerage treatment works the south-side of Brisbane is under 10 feet of water. So...

BUTLER: That's right. So there's no question there's contamination in the water, and I've had a look. I've checked the website myself to have a look at the sorts of advice being given by Queensland Health not to get into the water as far possible. If you have an abrasion in the water, to look to get that properly treated - and consider even a tetanus shot. Certainly not to ingest the water. And if you end up cleaning up after the water's been through your business or your house,

then to make sure that you're using proper protection. Anyway, Jim Bishop's, in short, advice, is follow the Queensland Health advice on this. It's good advice.

HOST: Okay. Now one other question if I may, Minister, again, on where we might be is, after the ‘74 flood went through and there was some vermin and mosquito-borne health issues, there were some inoculations that were given out as well. Is there any likelihood that part of this emergency health arrangement may include the possible inoculation of people who aren't fully inoculated for certain things?

BUTLER: Oh, I haven't received that advice yet, and I have a long conversation with Jim Bishop. He'll be talking very regularly. And I know there's a hook-up tomorrow with your authorities and now other states that are affected by...

HOST: And I want to stress to you, Minister, I'm not trying to ramp it up, I'm not trying to hype it up. I just wanted to ask a straight question about it.

BUTLER: No, I've not been provided with any advice about that yet.

HOST: Okay, well look, let's hope that's not the case. But the simple point is - cuts and abrasions, we heard this from Andrew Laming an hour or so ago. You say he's right, based on Jim Bishop's advice, and Professor Jim Bishop is the Chief Medical Officer. He is a competent bloke. I've had a lot of dealings with him over the years. We thank you for your time, Mark Butler.

BUTLER: Thanks Gary, all the best to you and your listeners.

HOST: Cheers. Mark Butler - he's the federal, well he's Acting Federal Minister for Health and Ageing.