Thursday, 2 September 2021
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Senator Colbeck. When Western Sydney woman Rola Raad's fever got worse and her fingers and toes became swollen and started to turn blue she called an ambulance to her home in Auburn. When she arrived at the local hospital she found out that she was positive for COVID-19. With 14 other ambulances already queueing, Rola was sent to a makeshift ward, a tent. She was in the ambulance and the tent for a total of eight hours. Minister, is the New South Wales hospital system coping with the current COVID case levels?
I thank Senator Keneally for her question. Clearly some elements of the New South Wales health system are suffering stress right now, but I say to people in New South Wales and to people in Australia generally that the Australian government has been preparing to support the Australian public health system since the beginning of the pandemic. In February 2020 we began preparing to support the Australian health system. We will continue to develop that program.
Senator Keneally interjecting—
Senator Keneally, I would rather take advice from the New South Wales government and the New South Wales health system than someone who led the Australian Labor Party to one of the worst electoral defeats in New South Wales's history. I will take my advice from those people who are running the health system there now and our health officials here.
We have worked to increase ICU capacity nationally from 2,000 to 7,500 ventilated beds nationwide. We've invested over $30 billion in COVID health measures. We continue to work with the New South Wales government in support of the system. We've invested over $6 billion in direct COVID support to state hospitals. One of the reasons we put in place the private hospital guarantee was to support the public health system to ensure that there was capacity across the country in the case of COVID. We continue to work with the states cooperatively in ensuring the capacity of the public health system.
Australian Medical Association President Dr Omar Khorshid warned:
… to look after the people with Covid we're going to compromise the care of everyone else. We are confident that we will be able to measure excess death down the track because of the impact of Covid on our broader health system …
How many excess non-COVID deaths are expected as a result of higher case numbers?
As I've already acknowledged, the COVID-19 global pandemic is having an impact on the health system here in Australia. It did that in Victoria last year, and we invoked the private hospital guarantee so that private hospitals could support the public health system in Victoria. We will take the appropriate measures in conjunction with the New South Wales government to support the public health system in New South Wales, just as we did in Victoria.
Mr President, I'm conscious of the time. We aren't even getting close to an answer to the actual question—so this is on relevance—'How many excess non-COVID deaths are expected as a result of higher case numbers?'
I take that point. You've restated the last part of that question. There was a substantial quotation from someone before that that talked about the stress on the hospital system—and I summarise it that way. I'm listening carefully to the minister, but I think he is addressing that part of the question. I've let you remind him of that part of the question.
I again acknowledge that there is stress on the system and that COVID-19 will continue to put stress on the system, but what we're doing is working with the states to ensure that there is capacity to support people with COVID to the extent that the private hospital guarantee ensures over 30,000 hospital beds additionally nationally, and the sector's 105,000 strong workforce is available to support the public health system to manage COVID. (Time expired)
The Australian Medical Association has today declared:
… a vaccination rate higher than 80 per cent of the adult population is likely to be required to avoid repeated lockdowns given the existing constraints on hospital capacity and staffing.
Can the Morrison government guarantee that existing constraints on hospital capacity and staffing will be resolved to ensure that Australia can open up safely?
The national plan, based on modelling done by the Doherty institute, is not just about opening the economy at 70 per cent or at 80 per cent. It is about a careful, safe opening of the economy so that we can ensure that the hospital system doesn't get overwhelmed. That's the—
Senator Keneally interjecting—
Well, if the AMA want to be modellers, then they should go and be modellers. We worked with the Doherty institute to do some modelling, the basis of which was supporting the health system and the—
Senator Watt's ears must be painted on! I directly addressed the question when I said the Doherty modelling is based on safely and progressively opening the economy to ensure there isn't undue pressure on the hospital system. That's the point of the process. I will go to the AMA for health advice. I will go to Doherty for modelling advice.