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Transcript of press conference: Brisbane: 17 March 2011: Logan Hospital; QEII Hospital; national health reform; GP registrars



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The Hon Nicola Roxon MP Minister for Health and Ageing

Transcript of Press Conference Brisbane - 17 March 2011

E & OE

   Topics: Logan Hospital, QEII Hospital, National Health Reform, GP Registrars

Geoff Wilson: Well, good morning ladies and gentlemen. We're here this morning to make a very important announcement regarding Logan Hospital. And I'm pleased to say that I'm joined by my federal counterpart, Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, and the local members - state members for this area who have been campaigning with both myself and my predecessor, and with the

federal government about the importance of Logan Hospital providing services to this Logan community.

I might invite Nicola to make the initial announcement and then we'll follow from there.

Nicola Roxon: Thanks very much, Geoff. And it's great to be here again and - in Queensland and particularly here at Logan Hospital making a very significant announcement, which really shows what national health reform will be able to deliver for Queensland and, particularly, for this community.

It's why you see so many enthusiastic local members here, because, I think, they, more than anyone living outside the community, understand how quickly this community is growing, and that the scale of investment that's needed to keep up with the future demands for the community is critical.

So, I'm delighted to be able to announce that, in partnership with the Queensland Government, national health reform will deliver a $230 million project here at Logan Hospital.

It's a very significant investment which will allow a significant restructuring, and we've got some of the graphics that can show you just the scale of the existing hospital and the new development here in colour. New emergency department,

new day surgery, new rehabilitation, new 23 hour ward, and, of course, an important investment in paediatrics, to make sure that children in this area have got access to specialised services. And I'm sure that Geoff will want to talk to you - or answer your questions in more detail about those.

But the really important message is that health reform can deliver these investments in partnership between the state government and the Commonwealth for this community in Logan.

And it comes on top of another announcement we've been able to make today which is that the 2011 GP training intake has been increased in Queensland. 182 GPs are being trained this year. A 44 per cent increase from the number of places of GPs trained in Queensland when Mr Abbott was the health minister.

So, what you see across these different announcements is investment in the vital workforce, more doctors and nurses. Investments in hospital facilities, more beds, specialised children's services, rehabilitation and, of course, national health reform delivering those outcomes as we work together across different levels of government.

We also have a significant announcement to make for QEII. I'm not sure if people would like to deal with that separately. I think we might handle the Logan queries here first. But again, another good story of partnership being able to deliver to other critical hospital services across Brisbane. So, over to Geoff and your questions.

Geoff Wilson: Well, thank you very much, Nicola.

Can I congratulate the federal government in building this strong partnership between the Commonwealth and with Queensland as we expand emergency departments across the state.

An extra $670 million-odd is coming to Queensland as a result of the historic National Health Reform Agreement.

And part of it is coming here, so that with the increase of $175 million, it takes this project at the Logan to a $230 million project.

So, we'll have an emergency department here expanded to about double its present size. There'll be a dedicated paediatric unit. There'll also be a dedicated rehabilitation unit. There'll be an expansion of 300 in the car parking capacity. There'll be increased capacity for elective surgery.

So, this is about making sure that the partnership, and a strong one, I say - the strong partnership between the Commonwealth and the state government results in a huge boost in funding to the Logan Hospital.

It means more beds sooner and closer to home. More beds, and bed bays and treatment areas sooner and closer to home. And that's got to be good for the Logan community, and we recognise it is one of the busiest hospitals in Queensland, and the planning has identified that we will get absolute value for

money by putting the Commonwealth and the state funding programs together to do a joint project that, indeed, will commence towards the end of this month to - I beg your pardon, will commence towards the end of this year, and take place over the next two years or so.

So, over to questions.

Journalist: [Indistinct] just playing catch-up isn't it for a hospital that's already [indistinct]?

Geoff Wilson: There is no doubt that Logan Hospital is one of the busiest hospitals in the state. And the planning has been done and work had been already commenced for the design of the new facilities and the state government had announced that previously.

What we've got here is the benefit of the new national health agreement providing an extra $175 million to this site, so that we can extend the expansion that we were otherwise planning, and we are now going to be able to make such a big difference for the provision of health services to local people here in the local community.

Journalist: What are the projections on how long this will cater for this area? I mean, this is an expanding area. How long will these beds be enough for [indistinct].

Geoff Wilson: Well, planning is done year after year, projecting forward to identify the trends that are able to be forecast at this point. But, of course, they're changing year after year and Queensland Health has a task, and I expect them

to fulfill well this task of doing good planning for future hospital development. Not just here but throughout the state.

That's why we're spending about $7.3 billion in a major capital upgrade across many, many hospitals, not just in the south-east corner and - but also in regional Queensland.

Journalist: So is this about planning for the future or is this just catching up?

Nicola Roxon: Not at the moment [indistinct] comment on that.

Sorry, can I just also make a comment on that and then we'll take a question here. Of course the other important part about the partnership with health reform

is of course the state government as Geoff is providing the comments to you plan for the hospital services, but an important part of health reform is making sure that we do better outside our hospitals, the areas that the Commonwealth has been traditionally responsible for, so what you actually also see is more investments in the GP Super Clinics, one which is coming to Logan, one which I'm going to visit afterwards today at Ipswich. Of course, the GP places that I'm talking about targeting to make sure that people have more options to get their health services appropriately closer to home and we won't be able to reduce the number of people presenting at busy hospitals like this as the population grows, but we may be able to manage a very fast increase by also investing in the services outside our hospitals.

So this is not just a one piece of the story - it's a whole jigsaw that's got to fit together - extra GP places, extra GP super clinics, doing more in preventative health so we keep people fitter and healthier for longer. And making sure we've got the best, of course, hospital services that need - are needed for growing

communities.

Journalist: [Indistinct] report shows that this hospital is struggling to keep up with the demand.

Are you saying this means that the hospital will be better equipped now, or is it just doing what it should have done anyway?

Geoff Wilson: It will certainly be far better equipped to deal with the numbers of folk that are coming to the hospital right now and into the future.

Of course any planning needs to anticipate the prospect of in the longer term continued expansion. And that's what planning by Queensland Health is focused on doing - not just for this hospital but for across the state.

Journalist: Do you concede that this is overdue?

Geoff Wilson: Look, any additional funding would be welcome - and is indeed greatly welcome into our hospitals and providing extra services.

Journalist: That's a given, that any extra funding is welcome, but is it overdue?

Geoff Wilson: I'm very pleased that we're now going to be able to take a lot more action to meet the demand that is present here at this hospital and is growing into the future. $175 million, taking the total to $230 million with approximately 76 new bed spaces and the treatment areas - that's going to make a big difference.

Journalist: But can you guarantee in your future report on waiting lists and the like that Logan won't be struggling as it has been?

Geoff Wilson: The only guarantee in life is death and taxes. What I can guarantee to you is that I will leave no stone unturned in driving improved performance within Queensland Health and the various hospitals and facilities that they look after.

What I'm particularly focused on is opportunities there are for innovations in new ways of providing service and practice within hospital settings, which is a way of getting better services to patients sooner, and at a more appropriate level.

For example, our pilots are happening in different hospitals that are identifying how particular waiting lists can be more appropriately handled so that those who do need to see the specialists are able to see the specialists sooner, and those who may be able to benefit from intermediary medical assistance and treatment are able to get access to that.

And so what I'm interested in doing is making sure that Queensland Health not only does what we're doing here and in other hospitals but identifies a program of innovation and reform about how health services are delivered so that we can improve the quality of service being provided to patients, and also get patients access to that service faster.

Now that won't happen overnight, but I - the guarantee I will give you is that I will leave no stone unturned in putting my efforts into driving that sort of approach to innovation and reform within the system.

Journalist: How's Thursday Island Hospital, has that been switched on yet?

Geoff Wilson: I've been told by the director general that the theatre is up and operating, and also that the electrical matters were addressed, and there was other work that is ongoing, and he is getting regular reports about the progress of that ongoing work.

Journalist: Is there still water leaking on the roof?

Geoff Wilson: My understanding is that further work is being done around leaking roof problems at the hospital, and I understand that that will be completed fairly soon.

JOURNALIST: When will all of those problems be fixed up?

Geoff Wilson: When they advise me that the contractors on site, and the workers on site doing that work have completed the work.

Journalist: What frame is it in, weeks?

Geoff Wilson: Well I've told them to go away and fix those problems as quickly as possible. And that's what I expect Queensland Health to do.

Journalist: Your predecessor also said that [indistinct] payroll, and those comments [indistinct]…

Geoff Wilson: Yeah.

Journalist: But what's your time frame with Thursday Island [indistinct] happening?

Geoff Wilson: My time frame is as quickly as possible and I will take the advice of building the specialists and contractors about that time frame, and I would expect that that time frame will be absolutely as short as possible, ensuring that quality work and maintenance work is done at that site so that it

has obviously lasting value.

Journalist: How much are the repairs going to cost Thursday Island?

Geoff Wilson: I haven't been provided with that detail at the moment. At this point the question of cost is secondary. The primary question is making sure that patients health care and safety is paramount, and of course also of the staff.

Journalist: Do you think that their own new hospital needs to be built there?

Geoff Wilson: One step at a time. I'm focused on ensuring that the director general of Queensland Health addresses the maintenance issues at that hospital for patient health care, safety, and the safety of staff.

Nicola Roxon: Can I just - before we get too much into some other issues also just make sure we cover off the announcement for the QE2 hospital because it's also a significant announcement which is being made today.

And that is that there is a $68.5 million extra investment in that hospital, doubling the size of the emergency department and adding 10 new palliative care beds and an endoscopy unit.

So that brings actually the total investment, the partnership again between the states and the Commonwealth, to $102 million.

Another big investment in expanding services where they're needed, so that the community can get better access.

I know from my previous visits to QE2 that having some palliative care beds at that hospital will make a big difference to the distance that many in the community need to travel when their loved ones are at the end of their lives. So these are two important investments, and I want to emphasise the appreciation that the Commonwealth government has for the partnership with the

Queensland Government. Queensland's been very quick in having their implementation plans to us.

We're excited about work being able to start.

And I'm looking forward to coming back here, Geoff, when that car park is actually a building site, and the people of Logan will see that these investments are starting to come on line by the end of this year.

Journalist: [Inaudible question]

Nicola Roxon: Certainly we will be. There are a number of investments that have already been announced in this broad health reform package.

You might recall, I think you might have been at Redcliffe when the announcements were made with the Prime Minister, so investments in extra, thousands of extra surgeries through the surgery connect program, are upgrades to Caboolture Hospital, Redcliffe itself, Cairns Hospital.

There are other investments that are part of the implementation plan that will be made over the coming weeks for different hospitals but the two that we're making today, the two very significant investments are for Logan and QE2.

Journalist: What's the Australian Consular Department doing for Australians, Australians returning from Japan, in regards to radiation?

Nicola Roxon: Yeah, look thank you. I mean this is a very serious issue as we all know unfolding in Japan. ARPANSA, our nuclear regulator here in Australia, has been providing both the government with detailed advice and information, which we can provide to Australians who are in Japan or returning from Japan.

Of course, our primary message, which we want to emphasise to any Australians who are in Japan or their families who are concerned here, is to follow the advice of the Japanese Government. With a situation that is changing quickly, exclusion zones protective measures that need to be taken, making sure that any Australians in Japan follow those instructions is vital.

But we do have on ARPANSA's website detailed information for people who are returning from Japan. We've had workshops already with the GP organisations so that they can provide advice.

But I do need to make clear that all the advice that we are being given is that Australians who are not in that immediate area close to the Fukushima plant, are very, very unlikely to have had any exposure to any radiation and it would be at extremely low levels.

So that is a reassurance I think to people now that there are measures and protective measures that people should take. And of course we are advising Australians not to be in those close exclusion zones and are assessing that almost hourly if circumstances change.

Journalist: Have you got any [indistinct] fear people return with radiation exposure? What can you do if you do have it?

Nicola Roxon: Well it's extremely unlikely that people will be returning here, exposed to radiation. Screening is being undertaken in Japan. We have of course information about Australians that are - were in the immediate area and, as the Prime Minister made clear yesterday, there's more than 100 Australians that we have not yet been able to contact. For others we are confident that they have been given the proper advice. Most Australians are in other regions of Japan that would not be affected by any increase, particularly around the Fukushima plant of radiation levels.

There are very simple measures that people can take. Of course if you think you have been exposed, taking off your clothes, showering, making sure that you are, for example, removing any materials that are on your shoes. But that specific advice really should be taken by the people who are in Japan.

We are providing general advice and I certainly want to provide assurance to Australians here that the severity of this incident in Japan can not be understated, but the risks to Australians are minimal. And of course we're providing advice to any Australians that are travelling in Japan, which needs to

be particularly focused on the advice that the Japanese authorities are giving to the community as the situation develops.

Journalist: Who's your pick to replace the ALP National Secretary?

Nicola Roxon: [laughs] Well, I'm not sure that it's, you know, a ballot that I actually have a choice in. Look obviously it's a very difficult job as a national secretary. I think Karl Bitar did a good job in pretty difficult circumstances. That will be a matter for the party to determine who the new secretary will be in, in due course.

Journalist: Anthony Chisholm's the frontrunner. Do you think he's got a chance?

Nicola Roxon: Oh well, he's obviously a very experienced official, well known to people here in Queensland, you know, a bright operator. But it is really not my role to provide a commentary on who the candidates will be. We're lucky in the party that we have a wealth of capable people. And I'm sure that the party will make a decision to choose who can fill that job best for us, in what is always a difficult time and where we have a very serious campaign to continue to run, explaining to the community the sorts of benefits that our health reforms and other important policy areas are delivering to the community.

So that'll be a challenge for the new secretary, to help us in that delivery of important messages, but ultimately it's a matter for the party who the secretary will be.

Journalist: Minister Wilson what are waiting times like here at Logan here at the moment?

Geoff Wilson: Well indeed in the last quarterly report, the long waits had been brought down and I think they're one of the lowest in the state, if not entirely eliminated. So a lot of good work is being done in elective surgery in this area.

Journalist: Minister, we saw last week that some of the critical projects for recording waiting times, particularly the amount of time you wait to see a surgeon have been delayed by the national health reform discussions. Is there a danger that other key projects like this have been stalled as political infighting and debate continues around the national health reform?

Nicola Roxon: Well I mean it is absolutely true and I think was publicly declared month after month that the challenges of having a agreement that had been struck with all states and territories, except for Western Australia, did mean that we could continue with a whole lot of planning, but we did not have a truly national deal.

With the leadership of the Prime Minister and the cooperation of Premier Bligh and others, we have now been able to strike a truly national agreement. It's why Geoff and I can be here today and say this money is able to flow for the sorts of projects that we're investing in. And it means that all of the work to establish the performance authority, to turn My Hospitals into an even more expansive website, providing national comparisons can go ahead.

I think there's always going to be argy-bargy over what sort of data can be reported. I've found and I'm sure Geoff will be - I know Paul was as his predecessor - Queensland to be very open about providing this sort of information because they, like us, see that this is one of the ways to help drive improvements in the system and we can't be afraid of that.

There's always going to be more work to be done and I am confident that we can deliver on those targets. I think there will be arguments about different reporting measures. I think that's inevitable when you're trying to do something different and truly innovative in health reform that people will argue over it.

But that probably means we're getting things done.

Journalist: The agreement has taken three, three years so do you think there'll be some critics that are just going to be playing catch up now, that might have been on hold while that discussion took place?

Nicola Roxon: Well, I think the benefits of national reform are that in 2008 when we also had a very significant health agreement as part of COAG, we were able to have the Commonwealth commit to a 50 per cent increase in funding under the health care agreements. Of course coming from the period when Mr Abbott ripped money out of the hospital system, we were able to get money into workforce investments. They're the sorts of things that have allowed the GP training places to be on, into preventative health measures and into Indigenous health.

So we had some early agreement as part of broader health reform from 2008 and that has been being delivered. But ultimately this is now the big deal that has been agreed to and Geoff and I can now get on with our jobs of delivering these services to the community so that they can access more beds, they can get better services and that there'll be more doctors and nurses closer to home.

Okay thanks very much for coming guys.

Ends.