Topics: Queen Elizabeth Hospital MRI announcement.
Leon Byner: Now we often talk about one of the great technologies within medicine and one of them is called Magnetic Resonance Imaging MRI for short. It uses a large magnet and radio waves to look at organs and structures inside your body. Health care professionals use MRI scans for a variety of things torn ligaments, tumors. They’re very useful for examining brain and spinal cord and if they want to know what’s going on in your body you’ll get one of these. Well thankfully the Queen Elizabeth Hospital one of our great hospitals in the western suburbs finally, they’ve had an MRI for a while but now, they’re getting a license. Let’s talk with Senator Simon Birmingham. Simon. Thanks for joining us.
Simon Birmingham: Great to be with you Leon.
Leon Byner: Why was the decision made now to give a license to the QEH, MRI? Because It’s been there for a while and I know that people have been asking one for a long time.
Simon Birmingham: The MRI has been there for a while Leon, you’re right and what our government has been able to do in the context of the last budget cycle is to be able to commit to fund an extra 50 MRI licences across Australia. That’s 350 million dollar investment. Why now? Well because we’ve got the budget in a strong position. We’ve got a strong economy, we’re bringing the budget back to surplus without increasing taxes as the Labor Party propose to do and that’s allowing us to say how and where can we reinvest some of that surplus, some of that’s economic strength back into community services that people want…
Leon Byner: So you’re saying Senator that the reason you’re doing it now is because you couldn’t afford it before?
Simon Birmingham: Well certainly the budget position is what is allowing us to provide 50 new licences across Australia and we’ve gone through a very thorough process in terms of assessing applications and there will be further announcements around other new licenses that will be provided. And this is just a great story for the QEH who indeed have toiled under cutbacks under the former state government, but now this decision that we’ve been able to take to give them a Medicare licence for rebating MRI procedures means that they’re going to be able to complement the other new investments that the State Government is making in expanding and improving those services at the QEH and all of that collectively is going to be a great lift for the 300,000 people living in Adelaide’s western suburbs and certainly with the clinicians that I was speaking to down there at the announcement this morning, they are incredibly positive about the very practical benefits it will mean for people, saving time saving money, getting better health care.
Leon Byner: Well, it’s good news for anybody but it seems the QEH that needs this service and many people do, so you’re saying you’re doing it now because the budget allows it, but there’s no Budget before the election is there?
Simon Birmingham: Yes there will be a budget before the election absolutely. The Budget will be handed down on April 2 and it will be the first surplus budget, the first time we’re coming back into surplus since effectively the Howard years.
Leon Byner: Do you know how much?
Simon Birmingham: I’d love that exclusive but all of those final figures will be crunched over the coming weeks of course Leon but this is what we’ve achieved is a government that over the last five to six years we’ve been able to not just grow the economy and generate growth of around one point two million jobs and deliver legislated tax cuts to people who are working and deliver tax cuts for small businesses as well. We’ve also been able to bring the budget back to surplus while doing those tax cuts and invest record amounts in our schools, in our health services, and hospitals and this MRI license is a practical example of that. You know chatting to Jake Hall-Evans who is the new Liberal candidate for Hindmarsh and he’s been lobbying for this and he was with me there this morning. He told me that some of the stories he’s had while doorknocking are of people who’ve been inpatients at the QEH that have had to be transferred by ambulance to the RAH to be able to have their MRI scan because they couldn’t afford any money any out-of-pocket costs.
Leon Byner: Mark Butler has also been lobbying for this for a while has he?
Simon Birmingham: Mark Butler may well have been lobbying for it but I’ll tell you what the licence has been delivered under a Liberal government because of our financial management and our decision to invest more.
Leon Byner: Why do we need a licence? Just so people understand, a lot of people scratch their head and say okay this machine’s very good it does what it does, good science why does it need a licence. What does that actually mean?
Simon Birmingham: Well we do regulate and this has always been the case in relation to these machines the number of localities that they can exist at and and and that of course is to be able to manage costs but also to ensure the quality of services in those localities as well. But you can improve that quality of services and by spending more when you’ve got the money to spend more and right now we’re now in the position where we’ve taken that decision that we can spend more and it won’t just be at the QEH. There will be other services no doubt in SA but also across the rest of the country who are going to seriously benefit from from this additional investment and as I say it comes about because you’ve got a balanced budget, you’ve got a strong economy and we’re able to do it without increasing taxes and Mark Butler will have to answer to the fact as to why it is that he wants to put 200 billion dollars extra taxes on Australians and why there are thousands of people in his electorate who ultimately will be paying as retirees higher taxes under the Labor Party.
Leon Byner: He’s listening now and to be fair let’s give him an opportunity to respond. Mark Butler good morning.
Mark Butler: Morning Leon, how are you?
Leon Byner: Now you’ve been lobbying for this MRI for a while I think since about 2014, haven’t you?
Mark Butler: Yeah I’m really glad that Simon’s made the announcement this morning. What it means now is that whatever the result of the election the QEH MRI machine will have a full Medicare licence because I announced several weeks ago that a Labor government if elected in May would grant that full licence. So now the people of the western suburbs can have confidence that no matter what happens in the May election there will be a full licence there. And there is some history to this, when we were last in government there were only several dozen MRI licences across the whole of the country. The Health Department has this view sometimes that if you restrict access to health care then people will simply stop going to the doctor. That’s why under the Howard Government they restricted the number of GPs that would be able to be trained every year and people didn’t stop needing to go to the doctor we ended up just having to bring in a whole lot of doctors from overseas. They have had the same approach to these MRI licences and people don’t get an MRI for fun, they get an MRI when they need it and the idea that people of the western suburbs needed to drive maybe up to 40 minutes to get a full Medicare licence I think was just unsustainable. When we were last in government we granted about two hundred and thirty eight licences including a partial licence at the QEH which meant that you could get Medicare rebates if you had a certain number of conditions and it became very clear to me quickly that was insufficient and that clearly I should have had a full Medicare licence. I’m just really happy that now both of the major parties have landed at a position where no matter what the result of the election, the people of the western suburbs will have access to a Medicare rebated MRI at their local hospital.
Leon Byner: Alright, thank you both for coming on this morning. That’s Mark Butler who is the Federal Member for Port Adelaide. Of course he’s also a candidate for the seat of Hindmarsh as Steve Georganas is for the seat of Adelaide. But Simon Birmingham made the announcement, I’m very happy that the QEH got the licence for the MRI and there are some wonderful practitioners in that hospital like Dr Reuben Sebben who we talk to from time to time who absolutely has been most passionate about these sorts of issues.
Benn Ayre: +61 428 342 325
Kathryn McFarlane: +61 419 850 201
Authorised by Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, South Australia.