House debates

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Adjournment

Mallee Electorate: Health Services

7:55 pm

Photo of Anne WebsterAnne Webster (Mallee, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

The outbreak of COVID-19 has challenged every Australian. All of us have been affected, and everyone has had to make changes to the way they live their lives. While it has been a difficult time, we have faced it together and we have done so with the confidence that our essential healthcare services will be there to support us through it all.

This period has demonstrated the strength of our healthcare services—their professionalism and their ability to adapt. I want to start by thanking all of our essential health and aged-care workers, who are putting their health at risk daily to care for the most vulnerable members of our community. To the nurses, cleaners, doctors, receptionists and everyone in between: you are all playing a vital role in this crisis which has not gone unnoticed. I thank you all deeply on behalf of the Mallee electorate.

As the seriousness of this pandemic became known, my thoughts turned to our healthcare services in Mallee. I began working closely with healthcare providers and local councils, hearing of the plans and strategies that had to be implemented swiftly across the electorate to respond to COVID-19. I took their concerns directly to the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, asking him to ensure that Mallee was on the map for planned respiratory clinics. Indeed, two have now been implemented and a third announcement is about to be made.

In Mildura, a clinic led by Sunraysia Community Health Services was the first in Victoria to be funded as part of the government's plan to establish 100 respiratory clinics across Australia. By taking pressure off the hospital and local GPs, this clinic has delivered enormous benefits for the community. In just over a month the clinic has triaged 528 telephone consultations which have led to 345 GP appointments and 326 tests for coronavirus. Including Mildura, Mallee will house three of the 100 respiratory clinics and I look forward to making further announcements on the clinics in Horsham and Swan Hill in the near future.

GPs and health providers in Mallee have applauded the $669 million expansion of Medicare subsidised telehealth services. Since 13 March, 8.8 million telehealth services have been delivered by 68,000 providers to 5.1 million patients Australia wide. Telehealth has given the capacity for patients to access health practitioners more readily and in a timely fashion, and therefore has reduced the risk of health practitioners being exposed to the virus and also increased health care. Telehealth has clearly played an important role during the COVID-19 pandemic, but a long-term expansion of telehealth subsidies is needed to address key issues with rural and regional healthcare service delivery. We must continue retaining these subsidies beyond the COVID-19 pandemic to address these issues, and I've spoken to Ministers Hunt and Coulton to express this imperative.

During this pandemic, I have seen aged-care services in Mallee go above and beyond to provide continuity of care to their residents. Long before this pandemic struck the nation I was working closely with aged-care providers in Mallee, hearing their concerns about funding shortfalls and advocating on their behalf. Funding challenges have been further exposed by this virus. I met with Minister Colbeck about this issue, and the additional pressure placed on providers to meet their own PPE needs, and I was very happy to inform providers of the $205 million COVID-19 support package. Providers in regional areas will receive $1,350 per resident under this package. Darren Midgley, CEO of Chaffey Aged Care in Merbein said that this funding would be put to good use in supporting the industry through the COVID-19 pandemic. I will continue to work with aged-care providers in Mallee and with the Minister for Aged Care, Richard Colbeck, to ensure a viable aged-care sector into the future.

Finally, I want to acknowledge everyone in Mallee who has followed the social-distancing advice from the national cabinet, as advised by the chief medical officers and the AHPPC. These isolating measures have been difficult for many in Mallee, including small-business owners who have had no choice but to close their doors. Our strict observance of these rules is exactly why Mallee has had so few cases of COVID-19. On 14 April, Mallee had seen a total of 21 cases and we've had no new cases since that time.

With the relaxation of some restrictions in Victoria, Mallee residents will now have the chance to catch up with family and friends in small groups, and we welcome this change.

House adjourned a t 20 : 00

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