Thursday, 25 March 2021
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Health. Minister, I have several pensioners in my electorate who have been charged up to $70 in out-of-pocket fees by doctors who are authorised to give the COVID vaccination, because some doctors are demanding and charging for a pre-vaccine consultation. Pensioners can't afford to pay these fees just to get the vaccine and some risk not being vaccinated at all due to the cost. Minister, what can be done to address this issue?
I want to thank the member for Mayo, who brought this to my attention a couple of days ago. There are three principles to the Australian vaccination program: firstly that it's free; secondly, that it's voluntary; and thirdly; that it's universally available, with enough vaccine for every Australian three times over.
Firstly, with regards to the specific question that you raised, I've received an example from your office with a specific practice. We've referred that immediately to the department and they are following up. Secondly, the notion that it is free has been reaffirmed with peak providers as it has been and is overwhelmingly, I believe, other than the case I've heard from you, the case around the country. Thirdly, we have reaffirmed the advice which has been provided publicly. I will read this for the benefit of the House in relation to the formal advice of the Australian government Department of Health:
Vaccination providers cannot charge to administer the COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine is free and the consult appointment for patients to receive their vaccinations is also free.
Exactly that which you have raised.
Charging a patient any costs associated with the administration of the COVID-19 vaccination (including booking fees) is a breach of the requirements under the program.
So that has been the case, that is the case and that will continue to be the case. Where there are examples such as those that have been raised by the member, we will take them up. I do want to say more generally, though, our GPs have been magnificent. They are doing an extraordinary job. What we've seen this week is a rapid escalation in the number of doses that have been administered as the general practice phase 1b program has begun.
This week we had 30,000 doses administered on Monday and over 46,000 doses administered on Tuesday. The figures just received show 49½ doses administered on Wednesday. So that rapid growth, which had always been intended for this week, is occurring. Over 126,000 doses have been administered over the course of the first three days of this week. Significantly, we have now passed the 400,000 dose mark in Australia, with 408,000 doses, and those numbers are escalating rapidly and daily. We're only able to do this because of the help of our magnificent GPs using that primary health network. Very importantly, we had the floods and the impact on distribution, which everyone was aware of. A couple of days ago there were 38 practices still looking for their first deliveries. That's now town to one in Taree, where the practice is still battling flood conditions. We've achieved that result and second-week vaccination deliveries are on their way already, and I thank our GPs.