Topics: Coronavirus update; healthcare package; flattening the curve; testing; ventilators; private hospitals
For the latest, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt joins us now. Minister, good morning to you.
Good morning, Ally, good morning, Karl.
Now, just before we get into the detail of this health care stimulus package, last night the Chief Medical Officer said that there were early hopeful signs in our fight against coronavirus. That the public health measures are working.
Can I ask, are you beginning to get a sense of optimism or is it too early for that?
Look, I do believe with every fibre of my being from the information that we are going to get through this. And what we are seeing is as Brendan Murphy said, early, positive signs of flattening the curve.
We’ve gone from 25 per cent a day and above down to the low teens. Now we have to see that continue, which is exactly why we have had to take these agonising measures for the country in terms of two people at a time, or a family group, or household, the no movement restrictions, and I am so desperately, desperately sorry that we’ve had to do this but we’re doing this to save lives.
And then we’ve backed that with the additional health measures, the mental health measures, the telehealth, ten years’ worth of work which we’ve done in ten days so as everybody can phone their doctor from anywhere.
The support for domestic violence, the support for isolated seniors. So it’s that combination of what we’re doing is becoming to yield benefits, but now we’ve got to go further and therefore we support the population at the same time.
I’ve had a number of messages from doctors in the front-line of all of this, and I am sure you’ve had plenty of well over the weekend. Their primary concern is that there aren’t enough ventilators.
It’s a simple question, do we have enough ventilators?
My belief and my advice is yes, we will get there. We’re going from 2000 to 4000 within the system. We’ve commissioned another 5000 plus to be built.
And so this whole equation, if I were to summarise the whole health goal, it’s to bring down the number of cases, that’s called flattening the curve, and to increase the capacity of the system.
We don’t have enough yet?
That’s in our primary care. No, at this stage, when I had my last advice yesterday, we had about, just over 40 people in intensive care around Australia.
Professor Nick Coatsworth advised me of that, and we have well more than 2000 operating systems which is currently being built out to over 4000, and then we have commissioned in a grand construction process with ResMed and other great Australian firms, another 5000 to be developed.
So we are fighting this by reducing the spread and increasing the capacity in our GP systems, in our mental health system, and above all else, in our hospital systems. And so all of these things are happening at the same time.
How much we bring it down reduces the amount we need to build the capacity, but we’re fighting, and you know what, we’re going to fight for every single life, every life.
And what about protective gear for our doctors and nurses on the front-line? What are you doing there to help with supply? Will we run out?
We’re keeping ahead of that curve. Probably two hours of every day of mine is focussed on the mask supplies, the supplies of testing kits. We have, we think, the highest testing rate in the world.
There may be another country, it might be Singapore but we don’t have all of the figures, but more than South Korea, dramatically more than the UK and the US, and that testing rate is incredibly important.
800,000 masks – I can inform you – are going out to general practices through what are called Primary Health Networks today. We’ve distributed over 8 million masks with more to come and every day, we’re bringing more masks in.
We’re developing mask manufacturing in Australia. We have a program with industry to do that. We’re developing ventilators. We’re developing our own test kits as well as bringing the testing in – the highest rate in the world, which gives us the best handle on the numbers in the world.
All of that’s designed to say to the Australian people: if you can do your bit, as agonising as it is, we can help provide that support. And to our GPs, we know this is hard.
We’ll start a new system today which was going to take ten years, but you are amazing and heroic. And our nurses in the hospitals, our doctor, wherever they are, these are our real heroes and we’ll do everything we can to support you.
It won’t be like it always has been, but you are amazing.
Minister, I just want to ask, can you explain what your approach is with the private hospitals? Did you jump the gun cancelling elective surgery?
Because we now see there are thousands of nurses out of work. Did you consider keeping them open and the staff employed so that they were ready when we need them?
This has been the other major part of my work. You asked about PPE or masks and other equipment. That was the very reason behind the restrictions on the non-urgent elective surgery.
The urgent elective surgery or what’s called category one and other compassionate cases continue. But right now, we’ve been working over the weekend to provide certainty, guarantee and viability for the private hospitals.
The states are looking to conclude agreements with them today, and the Commonwealth is looking to support that. And so one of my fundamental goals is not just to maintain capacity in the public system, but to maintain that capacity as a unified system between public and private.
Late into the night, we were working with the AMA, the Catholic hospitals, Ramsay, Healthscope, and we want to get our hospitals through this, our private hospitals, to support the population. So fair question, but a really positive answer on that.
It’s all going to be faster as we see around the world, but we’re coping as a country better than almost everybody because people are being flexible and I want to thank them for that.
Well Minister, that is very good news because at this time, the last thing we want is to lose any nurses. We appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.
Take care. We’re going to get through this.