Wednesday, 23 November 2022
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023; Consideration in Detail
Michelle Ananda-Rajah (Higgins, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source
I may be among the most qualified people in this Chamber today to speak about the health system. I lived and breathed it for 26 years. The reason I stand in this Chamber, though, is that I could not turn away from the unmet needs of my healthcare colleagues at the start of this pandemic. It breaks my heart to see what has happened to our health system, and it is thanks to nine years of neglect and the set-and-forget mentality of those opposite who failed to implement the necessary reforms and investment in workforce and infrastructure. Then, of course, along came a public health crisis. There is always going to be a public health crisis, and in this case it was the pandemic. It was the ultimate pressure test. What we are seeing now is the effects of this crisis on a health system that was already struggling but is now on its knees. Only last week, in Victoria, I learned that another 20 per cent of nurses have actually left the profession. That is unacceptable. We just cannot replace these professionals fast enough.
On the front line, I saw and heard their call, their cries and their desperation. I heard this in Cabrini, a major private hospital in my electorate, as well as at the Alfred. In fact, there are health professionals who work in both of those places. That's what they do. It's a mobile workforce; we move around. They told me that during the pandemic in the early years they were abused, they were hushed up and they were gaslighted—I heard a bit of gaslighting just now. What it did was light a fire in me that burns still. Healthcare workers demanded better. They wanted masks, they wanted fit-testing—where the masks actually fit their face—and they wanted transparent reporting. I reached out to both sides of parliament at the time. I'm pleased to say that our current health minister listened. He listened to me, he was curious and he asked the right questions. It was my colleagues working in my electorate who propelled me into this House because they knew that, as a first responder, a researcher and a frontline specialist, I knew the pressures on the health system. I know them acutely and intimately. Their stories were the reason for the season.
In government now, I'm pleased to say I'm surrounded by like-minded colleagues. We have several doctors, we have nurses and we have a pharmacist on our side, and we get it. I'm pleased to say that we regard our healthcare workforce and our aged-care workforce as national assets. They are national assets. They are critical to the functioning of our healthcare system. There is no functioning of our nation without a reliable healthcare system. It must be robust and it must be supported.
We are investing in 50 urgent care clinics. This is a game changer. I worked in one of the busiest hospitals in the country, a hospital that, only last week, our health minister described as a jewel, which it is—the Alfred. Our emergency department is just bursting at the seams. It always has been, but it's worse now. Why? Because people have deferred their care, and they are now turning up with advanced diseases and illnesses—sometimes cancers. There is ambulance ramping and there are people lying in trolleys. My mornings were spent in the emergency department in damage control, basically, trying to get people out and in as quickly as possible. So those 50 urgent care clinics are going to make a real difference. It means that people can turn up with only their Medicare card. They don't need their credit card. That is a real issue in my electorate—people are ringing my office on a daily basis, asking about which clinics actually bulk-bill anymore. You shouldn't need to turn up to an emergency department if you don't have a serious illness. You should be able to go somewhere else. That is what we're delivering.
We're also investing in our health workforce with a national nurse and midwifery health service of $25 million, which is going to look after and protect this national asset. The Strengthening Medicare Taskforce is fantastic. For too long, we have pivoted towards supporting hospitals. Supporting hospitals is important, but let's not forget that our primary-care workforce is actually the backbone of our health system. It takes six years to get through medical school and then another 10 to 15 years to become a specialist, so you're looking at nearly 15 years for a general practitioner to come out. So we need to start that planning now. We're picking up the slack, and we're getting on with it. In addition to that, we're also addressing this maldistribution of doctors from urban environments into the regions with a substantial amount of funding.