Virtual Address, AMA Conference

Speech
01 Aug 2021
Prime Minister
E&OE

PRIME MINISTER: G’day to everyone joining us online for this final day of your virtual AMA National Conference.

I am speaking to you here from The Lodge in Canberra where we continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the outset, can I acknowledge the traditional owners of our country and pay our respects to elders past, present and emerging. And, of course here the Ngunnawal people in the Canberra region.

I also honour any serving members of the ADF and veterans who may be listening and watching on today. I particularly want to acknowledge our ADF medics, our nurses and reservists, and thank them for their service, particularly during the course of Operation COVID Assist.

I also pay tribute to all of our health and medical professionals who have stepped up across our country over these past 18 months. And to the AMA President Omar Khorshid, Dr Khorshid I want to thank you for your partnership, for your advice, and for your leadership, not only to the GPs and the doctors of this country through the AMA, but the sense of assurance that you’ve given to Australians in partnering us as we’ve sought to take the country forward during this difficult time.

Our GPs – you’ve done so much.

You have been – and are – on the front line fighting this dreadful virus….

… answering the questions of your patients, providing that care and support and assurance that they so desperately need from a trusted medical professional who have spent a lifetime building that trust for just such a time as this, for you to be able to provide that support and assistance to your patients.

… adapting as circumstances change, and I know that’s been tough.

… masking up, wiping down,

… going above and beyond. Opening at different hours so you can provide that support and critical medical care that Australians need at this time. And I know that’s gone beyond, in telehealth and all the other services that you continue to provide.

On behalf of the Government and our country, on behalf of all Australians, I want to say thank you to the doctors of Australia and to the AMA.

Thank you for everything you’ve done, for everything you’re doing right now, and for everything you’ll be tackling in the days, weeks and months ahead as we chart this course out of this crisis.
I also thank Australia’s GPs for your incredible efforts in vaccinating Australians.

We backed the doctors of Australia, the GPs of Australia, to deliver these vaccines. It was a conscious decision to say it’s primarily through our primary care network that we’ll be delivering these vaccines. And, you’ve stepped up.

Our GPs have worked tirelessly to provide well over half, the lion’s share, of Australia’s COVID-19 vaccines to date, including now getting up to over 120,000 and more vaccines delivered through our GP network each and every day.

Why? Well, it’s because you’re trusted, and we know that many Australians have questions about vaccines.

That’s why we added a new MBS item to support discussions with patients about their vaccine options, and are providing more opportunities for GPs to administer the Pfizer vaccine as well.

And, we’re hitting our marks with our vaccination targets. We had significant challenges, as you well know, in those first months of the vaccination program. But together we’ve been turning this around. We have turned the corner. We are catching up the ground, and we are ensuring that these vaccines are getting into more arms each and every week, substantially because of your efforts.

Twelve million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have now been administered in Australia.

We’re tracking at more than one million a week – and that is only accelerating, again with the GPs doing the lions share.

Now, let’s break that down a bit more, because it’s important.

Almost 40 per cent of Australians aged 16 and over have now had a first dose.

And, that includes almost two thirds of people aged over 50, and more than 75 per cent of people aged over 70.

Across Australia, we are applying the same determined focus in 2021 to fighting COVID as we did last year in 2020.

And, we know that so far we have saved over 30,000 lives here in Australia, at least, because of our combined efforts.

Overseas, the death rate from COVID-19 across the OECD – countries just like Australia, sophisticated health systems, populations that are familiar with vaccines, and health care and all of these issues, substantial economies – their fatality rate last year was 39 times greater than what occurred here in Australia. That’s what together we have been able to avoid, saving more than 30,000 lives here in this country.

And, the AMA was an integral part of that effort and what we’ve been able to achieve – and that continues because our work, as Omar knows, is still very much underway.

Every step of the way we have been listening to our medical experts. We have given a keen ear to their advice, not just on the medical issues but how we can actually ensure that the vaccines and the other issues can be delivered and disseminated right across the population.

We invested more than $25 billion in the COVID-19 health response directly from the Federal Government.

That includes almost 25 million COVID-19 pathology tests – ensuring widespread testing.

We’ve provided more than 60 million COVID-19 telehealth services for around 14 million patients.

Telehealth, of course, is a success story all on its own.

Now, we all know that in addition to COVID-19, the day to day diseases and illnesses that we all face have not stopped. They haven’t gone away. And, of course, there’s a great risk that those things can be put to one side, and Australians may not pay as much attention to the other areas of their health. But, you’ve certainly kept paying attention, and so have we.

So, we’ve worked as hard as we can to keep every part of our health system going, even through this pandemic.

Telehealth has played an important role in supporting Australians through the pandemic, ensuring that Australians can continue to see their GP, renew their scripts, seek mental health support from the safety of their own home, which in many cases they were required to stay in in order to get on top of this pandemic.

This systemic reform has been designed in partnership with the AMA – every step of the way – as we have responded to the pandemic.

And, I want to thank Minister Hunt for the great work, working together with Omar and all the team at the AMA and across the medical profession, to ensure that we can keep delivering. The conversation, the dialogue has been constant, the channels always open, and the honesty and candour in the discussion I’ve greatly valued, and I know that Greg has valued that as well. So, I want to thank you for the way you have engaged with us as medical professionals in this country.

Since 13 March 2020, more than 300 temporary Medicare Benefits Schedule telehealth items have been implemented as part of the Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic for GPs, allied health and specialists.

And, as at the 26 July 2021, 66.8 million telehealth services have been delivered to 14.6 million patients. Almost $3.4 billion in benefits has been paid. This is exclusive of the bulk billing incentive, and 85,900 practitioners have now used telehealth services. It’s a mammoth effort.

Our commitment, as this demonstrates, to Medicare, is rock solid.

Funding in Medicare is at record highs – and it continues to climb, reaching $33.5 billion by the 2024–25 financial year.

And, we have been adding more lifesaving and life-changing drugs to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. This is a great passion of our Government, and myself and Minister Hunt in particular. We have been working on these issues for many years, going back to when I was Treasurer and he was Health Minister. And, we have continued that on over the last three years.

Since coming into Government, our Government has made more than 2,700 new or amended listings on the PBS. And, you know what a difference that makes to the lives of your patients and their families.
An average of around 30 listings or amendments a month – that’s one single every day. That’s what a commitment to the PBS looks like, and that our Government has been demonstrating and you’ve been helping us deliver.

I’ll mention what we’ve been able also to add in just the last two months.

New treatments for mesothelioma, where without subsidy, patients, you know, they would have to pay more than $130,000 per course of treatment for this medicine.

And new listings for
… kidney cancer
… severe eczema
… and to prevent women going into premature labour.

We’re so proud of the expansion of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, the PBS, that has occurred under our Government. I believe that the PBS is one of the greatest achievements of Australia’s national effort. It is a world leading program. And, we have committed to it, I think, more than any other government before us.

This year, more than any before, we pay tribute also to the remarkable research and expertise that we have in the pharmaceutical industry who are commercialising lifesaving vaccines for you to administer.
Our health system is world-class, and Australians are rightly proud of it.

But, even the best systems need updating and refining so that we can ensure all Australians can access the best practice care, and so that we’re investing in new and amended items.
So, we undertook the MBS Review.

It was led by clinicians, as it should be.

In fact, we had more than a hundred clinical committees and working groups providing expert advice to the Government.

It was the most comprehensive review of Medicare ever. And, you were driving it.

Many of these changes now in place reflect up-to-date medical practice, increase rebates to encourage best practice, and remove obsolete items.

Changes equal a system that works better and works smarter for your patients, so you can deliver the care that I know you’re passionate about delivering. That’s why you decided to make that commitment to go into the medical profession. It’s a huge commitment and each and every day you live out that commitment and that vision and dream that you had of doing the work that you are doing this day.
In this case, the changes update things like orthopaedic, cardiac and general surgery so it better reflects the way you actually practice and treat people.

It’s got incentives for advanced techniques with improved patient outcomes, such as the new items for complex aortic procedures.

And, any savings will be reinvested into new and amended items.

It all comes back to making a better system for Australians.

Finally, I want to end where I began.

By thanking you.

For the way that you engage with our Government, and government’s right across the country – even when our conversations have had to be robust.

But, above all, for the way you passionately care for Australians and for what you are doing for our country.

Again to Dr Khorshid, thank you for your leadership. And again, to Minister Hunt, thank you for the way that you’ve so fully engaged with the AMA and the medical profession, and particularly our GPs across the country.

We understand that you’re on the front line of this. We understand that you’re the ones that we can work through to ensure that we come through the worst global pandemic that we have seen in a century.

We’ve saved over 30,000 lives. We’ve ensured that a million people have got back to work. We’re charting our course out of this. And, you are helping us lead the way and lead Australians back to a life that they once knew, and for that I want to thank you. And, I look forward to continuing to shoulder up together to the challenges that we know are ahead. Thank you very much.