SCOTT LEVI: Obviously a big announcement to be made today and I think it might have something to do with the hospital and the university but, I’m not going to steal your thunder; what can you tell us?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well Scott, yes indeed you are on the money there that we are indeed announcing today that we will commit funding to deliver the Central Coast Medical School and Medical Research Institute which is great news for the people here on the Central Coast which will see ; 30 start up places per annum supporting ultimately 150 medical students to study at a new university campus as part of the Gosford Hospital precinct providing ultimately 150 medical places, more than 400 allied health places. A wonderful opportunity for local students as well as of course the local health care sector.

SCOTT LEVI: From what I can gather from Professor Aitken who was on the program the other day from the University of Newcastle’s medical faculty, its more than just doctors, is that right? Its across the board, it could be someone cleaning the hospital, someone in administration, someone answering the phone or a nurse; very broad research I believe.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Absolutely. So, there are I guess a couple of aspects to look at here. There is the university training aspect which will support 150 students to be studying locally to become doctors and will support around 400 allied health places across a range of health disciplines to be trained and to study, but then of course the research institute has enormous additional capabilities from which the University of Newcastle is already working through experts here in Gosford to link with the rest of the world, an enormous capacity there to generate new jobs, new economic opportunity within the local area.

SCOTT LEVI: From what I can gather from his vision for this, and he was very excited about it, its about researching hospital efficiency, looking at problems like bed block, ambulance block with a brand new hospital, $368 million upgrade to the hospital, getting a better bang for the buck. You would know only too well what the Federal Health spend is, so that’s quite a double edged sword, isn’t it, when it comes to doing research?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Absolutely. If you just look at the Medicare spend we’re currently spending around $23 billion, which over the budget forward estimates will grow to about $26 billion on Medicare…

SCOTT LEVI: Is that the largest federal spend? Is that the largest area?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: [Indistinct]…This is a record level of spending in health, hospitals, Medicare which continues to grow under the Turnbull Government and of course more than that is then invested on top of that $23 billion growing to $26 billion in support of hospitals, which flows through support in to State Governments. All of that requires us to be as efficient and careful as we can be and we are seeing some very positive in the health and hospitals sector in terms of getting greater efficiency, we are seeing record levels of bulk billing rates which have grown under the Coalition Government so, very positive directions in terms of health care and health efficiency, but we need to continue to invest, as we are, in research and facilities, like this new one in Gosford, to keep making our hospital system and our health care system as efficient as possible in the future.

SCOTT LEVI: Lucy Wicks, obviously we could always do better and that’s where this research project comes in is it? That we can look at a modern, state of the art hospital and look at how it runs, the minutia of day to day to get people in to the right beds, for the right medical outcomes and bed block, ED problems, all of that sort of research; how useful will that be to the taxpayers, to make our hospitals more efficient?

LUCY WICKS, MEMBER FOR ROBERTSON: Well look, I think this is something that while it is regionally focussed here on the Central Coast, it is going to have benefits, of course the research outcomes will have benefits not only for Australia, but because of the global connections that the University of Newcastle is bringing to this project is really quite innovative, it is cutting edge and it is really about those research collaborations, international research collaborations, the teaching collaborations that are actually made possible by a very unique business model that Newcastle has put forward together with the Central Coast Medical Health Service. I mean, it is an extraordinary opportunity for Gosford to become a university town, to have a university campus in the heart of the city that we actually know affectionately as our capital city of the Central Coast region and we know that we really want to see this region grow and thrive and prosper and I think this announcement today is another important step forward in the revitalisation of Gosford.

SCOTT LEVI: It is quite a surprising area of research, isn’t it? Because most people think “oh they’re going to try and find the next cochlear implant” or whatever, but this is nuts and bolts stuff on hospital efficiency and it came out of the blue for me really because a lot of the research they do at our universities is very much looking for that next magic cure for cancer or whatever, but this almost grassroots research, very useful practical research isn’t it? Applicable research…

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well health economics is a critical area of research and investment and activity because, of course, we have an aging population, we have ever increasing availability of medical technology. So, both the availability of care and treatment, combined with the increasing number of potential patients means that the ongoing cost to governments only points in one direction and that is of cost that taxpayers ultimately have to meet.

So, the more we can drive efficiency from our health dollar, the better we can therefore afford support providing the best possible health care, making more available better technologies, more medicines as we have been doing, we’ve really been trying under the Coalition Government to drive efficiency in some of the areas of health care delivery, so that we can invest in putting more medicines in the pharmaceutical benefits schedule, making them cheaper and more available so Australians can access the best possible opportunities in future. What we have here is, of course, a $32.5 million local investment, which Lucy Wicks has championed. Certainly, when I became Minister for Education and Training last September I think it was a matter of weeks, if not days until Lucy was in my office saying that this is an important project for Gosford and for the Central Coast and this will give opportunities to local students to study medicine or allied health courses locally here in the Central Coast area, it will provide more opportunities for patients in terms of the way the treatment occurs locally and it really does complete the health care precinct that has been under development.

SCOTT LEVI: There has been criticism of the different tiers of government not working together, but Lucy Wicks, I think on this project you couldn’t level that criticism at the three tiers of government could you? I believe it has been a very bipartisan approach to this particular project.

LUCY WICKS: It is an extraordinary example of what we can achieve when we do work collaboratively together and I must pay tribute to Gosford City Council for their championing of this project. In fact, it is the realisation of our growth plan for the Central Coast which was I guess in part reflecting what both Wyong Council and Gosford Council were saying about having a university presence from Gosford’s perspective right here in Gosford. So, for the past probably close to two years, we have worked together with the council, with the area health service in New South Wales Government obviously and importantly the University of Newcastle who have really, you know, this is their project and their plan, but it is made possible because I think we have been working collaboratively together towards a common goal.

This is fantastic news for Gosford because if you look at the economic benefits, yes we can talk about 765 jobs over the next 10 years arising from this, yes we can talk about more than $200 million of direct economic impact as a result, but I love looking at the fact that we are going to see more people in Gosford, more students in Gosford, we are going to see more associated businesses and industries, I believe, actually around this particular institution. We are going to see the students from Henry Kendall High School and Gosford High School or [indistinct] around the Central Coast be able to look out their window and see or drive past the university campus and say “perhaps one day I can study there”.

SCOTT LEVI: Would it have worked if we hadn’t had the $368 million upgrade, I mean, obviously it will be a state of the art facility and therefore they can look at it with a fresh canvas so to speak?

LUCY WICKS: Look, absolutely. I think this is an extraordinary time in Gosford’s future for the Central Coast. We are on the precipice, I think, of stepping in to our own as a region so many of us actually talk about a dream of becoming a region of world-class excellence. I think we are beginning to see steps that are being taken to help make that happen.

SCOTT LEVI: More autonomy too. Dramatic change in morale at the hospital when it came out from under the oak of North Sydney and local people were empowered and we know that local people here as good as any and there is a totally different change of attitudes. Sad to see Matt Hanrahan going, he is going to take a big role with Calgary Catholic Hospital out of Canberra, we’ll be catching up with him down the track as he is winding us his tenure there as the boss of Central Coast health. That overarching Central Coast health, have you seen a change in morale and people know working together for the Central Coast rather than answering to Sydney?

LUCY WICKS: Well I think, you know, certainly we have seen and in particular Matt Hanrahan an extraordinary champion of this project and a key driver to really realise the unique opportunity that we have with the half a billion dollar investment in to the upgrade of Wyong and Gosford hospital and Scott, we talk about Gosford but of course this has flow-on effects right across the region. It is going to benefit the entire Central Coast community. I think the opportunity to meet the needs, the growing needs of both Gosford and Wyong Hospitals to be able to really work on research opportunities that are going to have positive benefits for people here on the Central Coast. This is about patient centred care, it is about globally connected, but regionally focussed medical research and of course a university campus in the heart of Gosford.

SCOTT LEVI: 92.5 ABC Central Coast, it is 23 past 7. We are speaking with Senator Simon Birmingham, the Minister for Education and Training and the Member for Robertson, Lucy Wicks. Senator, is there evidence that exists to suggest that people who train in allied health or nursing or as a medico and have a good experience in a region, stay in a region? Because we know that there is competition for the best and brightest in this field don’t we?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Absolutely. Every indication is that medical students who train in a certain area have experience in terms of their practical placement and training in a certain area or a region are more likely to stay in that area. People who have greater exposure to working in regional areas in general are more likely to then work in regional areas in future. So, this is very good news in terms for the Central Coast area that local students can, as Lucy said, see the opportunities that exist and seize those opportunities locally with the first university campus to be set up and to be operating in Gosford as part of the hospital precinct, but of course, wherever those students ultimately come from there is far greater likelihood that once they have been studying here on the beautiful and wonderful Central Coast, they will be much more likely to want to stay here, keep their medical practice here and guarantee then that availability of high quality health care well in to the future.

SCOTT LEVI: And of course, I think one of the things that is interesting about this project, and we’ll talk to Professor Aitkin about it tomorrow after your official announcement today at the hospital, it is not just the top of the tree doctors is it? It is right across the board, the research is in to all facets of providing health care and I think that is very inclusive because not everyone is the specialist Doctor.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s right, the University of Newcastle will be offering a range of different course opportunities and study opportunities here which will sit alongside and will be part of that research institute looking at all of those different issues in terms of the delivery of health care and the efficient operation of hospitals. So, it really is a wonderful mix of opportunities for students and for skilled individuals to work here because ultimately what we are looking at is the jobs, the growth, the economic opportunity here in the Central Coast as well as the health care and service delivery and this will create more high paying jobs in the local community with all of the spin off benefits in terms of the local economy that Lucy was speaking of before.

SCOTT LEVI: Former Wyong Mayor, Doug Eaton came out about it about a year or so ago and really stirred the possum a bit, poked the stick, claiming that U of N really weren’t immersed enough in Central Coast life, you know, obviously they are in the campus there, the Mayor was keen on a Chinese campus as well, we’re acting more for Newcastle than the Central Coast. Do you think that this might sway the thinking of Councillor Eaton and others? You know, is this the first step towards more university services? Because the problem is if you go just up the road to the Northern Beaches, you’ve got just over 50% of the population with tertiary education, here we’ve got about 16 so, there is a need.

LUCY WICKS: Scott, you are spot on and I think this is a great demonstration of the universities commitment to the Central Coast. Back in 1989 of course they first established the campus at Ourimbah and I was a student in Year 11 and I remember being so excited about the possibility to be able to study at university locally. Unfortunately, for the course I wanted it wasn’t available…

SCOTT LEVI: Will this be more linked to the campus at Ourimbah too? Will we have stand-alone schools like podiatry and sports medicine and whatever else?

LUCY WICKS: Yep, absolutely linked, but this is about creating more choice for students who wish to be able to study in these fields, to stay on the coast, that is exactly right, Scott.

SCOTT LEVI: Alright, I’ll let you go, I know you’ve got official things to do and announcements to make and we’ll speak to Professor Aitkin tomorrow who will – and I think the Vice-Chancellor as well, who will be part of this as well officially at the hospital I believe you’ll be letting people know.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Yes that’s right. Caroline will be there, I understand that Karen McNamara of course the other local MP from the Central Coast who has worked hard on this as well will be there. So, it really is an example, as Lucy said, of the different levels of Government and the University working collaboratively together.

SCOTT LEVI: Alright, Senator Birmingham, thanks so much for coming in. Lucy Wicks, good to see you again, thank you very much.