Medicare bulk billing rates at all time high

More Australians than ever are receiving their medical care at no cost to themselves, with the latest Medicare data showing that almost nine out of 10 visits to the GP in 2020-21 were bulk billed, with no out-of-pocket cost to the patients.

In the last 12 months to June 2021, the GP bulk billing rate was at an all-time high of 88.8 per cent. This is 1.2 percentage points higher than the previous year and 6.5 percentage points higher than in 2012-13.

Across all Medicare services, the bulk billing rate reached 81 per cent, an increase of 4.5 percentage points since 2012-13.

A total of 377.2 million medical services were bulk billed to Medicare in 2020-21, 34.1 million more than in the previous year.

The Australian Government’s rapid and effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic is reflected in today’s record-breaking figures.

Telehealth changes to Medicare introduced for the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to high bulk billing, while also reducing the risk of spreading the disease in the community.

GPs provided 38 million consultations via phone and 769,543 via video over the last 12 months and Medicare benefits were also paid for 5 million phone consultations and 2.3 million video consultations provided by specialists and allied health professionals.

The temporary telehealth items represented 22.6 per cent of GP consultations and 9.9 per cent of all Medicare services in 2020-21.

As part of the 2021-22 Budget, the Government committed more than $65 million from 1 January 2022 to boost bulk billing rebates and provide more affordable healthcare for patients in regional, rural and remote areas.

Our Government’s commitment to Medicare and bulk billing remains rock solid. These figures show that we are supporting the health and wellbeing of Australians more than ever before.

First million doses of Moderna arrive from Europe

The first consignment of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine doses has arrived in Australia and will be administered by community pharmacies around the country from the end of next week.

Almost 350,000 doses arrived last night as part of Australia’s original contracted supply, with a further 700,000 from the additional million doses secured from European Union member states due to arrive tomorrow.

Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, welcomed the arrival of the doses and said they were the first of two million to be supplied by Moderna in September from their Belgium plant.

“We expect that these doses will be distributed to more than 1,800 community pharmacies across the country and put in into the arms of Australians in the next week,” Minister Hunt said.

“A further 1,800 community pharmacies across the country will start to receive doses the week commencing 27 September.

“To date, we have administered over 24 million COVID-19 vaccines across Australia, with more than 70 per cent of Australians having received a first dose and 45 per cent having received a second dose. These are important achievements as we move closer, every day, to the vaccination rates required for us to safely reopen our country.

“The additional Moderna vaccines will provide more opportunities for Australians to get vaccinated, including those aged 12-15 who recently joined the rollout, and I encourage anyone who hasn’t received a COVID-19 vaccine yet to book one today.”

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has approved and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has recommended the use of the Moderna vaccine for Australians aged 12 and over.

Nationwide, more than 3,640 pharmacies have already put their hands up to administer the Moderna vaccine.

Australia has an advance purchase agreement with Moderna to secure 25 million doses of the vaccine – 10 million this year and 15 million in 2022. The Moderna vaccine doses will go through the standard TGA batch-testing process as all other COVID-19 vaccines.

To book a COVID-19 vaccination today, visit https://www.australia.gov.au/

National Cabinet Statement

National Cabinet met today to discuss Australia’s COVID-19 response, recent outbreaks of COVID-19 and the Australian COVID-19 Vaccine Strategy.

National Cabinet continues to work together to address issues and find solutions for the health and economic consequences of COVID-19.

Since the beginning of the pandemic there have been 82,202 confirmed cases in Australia and, sadly, 1,138 people have died. More than 35.2 million tests have been undertaken. Testing has increased nationally over recent days with 1,574,446 tests reported in the past 7 days.

Globally there have been over 226.9 million cases and sadly over 4.6 million deaths, with 674,536 new cases and 11,033 deaths reported in the last 24 hours. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge in many countries around the world.

Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine roll out continues to expand. To date over 24 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Australia, including 302,141 in the previous 24 hours.

In the previous 7 days, more than 1.9 million vaccines have been administered in Australia. More than 70.4 per cent of the Australian population aged 16 years and over have now had a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, including over 85.3 per cent of over 50 year olds and more than 91.9 per cent of over 70 year olds.

More than 45.3 per cent of Australians aged 16 years and over are now fully vaccinated including more than 64.5 per cent of over 50 year olds and more than 73.2 per cent of Australians over 70 years of age.

Today, Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly provided an update on current outbreaks of COVID-19. The Chief Medical Officer noted the outbreaks in New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory.

All leaders reiterated the importance of Australians, especially those in vulnerable groups, to get two doses of a COVID-19 vaccination.

Professor Brendan Murphy, Secretary of the Commonwealth Department of Health, provided an update on the work being done by the Commonwealth and all states and territories looking at health system capacity for managing COVID-19 cases during Phases B and C of the National Plan, and the Chief Medical Officer provided an update on the Test, Trace, Isolate and Quarantine (TTIQ) work underway through AHPPC. Leaders discussed in detail the health system capacity within jurisdictions, with further analysis to come back to the next meeting of National Cabinet. NSW and Victoria provided an update on the detailed planning already underway in their jurisdictions.

National Cabinet received a briefing from Lieutenant General John Frewen, DSC, AM, Coordinator General of the National COVID Vaccine Taskforce (Operation COVID Shield). National Cabinet welcomed the roll out through pharmacies of the Moderna vaccine from next week. Further work is underway to support booster shot roll out, subject to approvals.

State and territory leaders received an update on work underway in some jurisdictions to progress home quarantine trials for fully vaccinated Australians. All jurisdictions agreed to integrate an individuals’ record of COVID-19 immunisation history into state and territory check-in apps. The record of COVID-19 immunisation history will be used within these check-in apps as per requirements under state and territory public health orders.

All leaders agreed that National Cabinet has strengthened relationships between governments by facilitating regular discussions in the national interest, founded on the same principles of trust, confidence and collaboration which underpin State, Territory and Commonwealth Cabinets. Today National Cabinet members have provided a joint statement reaffirming this, which is attached.

National Cabinet agreed to meet next on Friday, 1 October 2021.

COVID-19 Risk Analysis and Response – Taskforce

National Cabinet received an update from Professor Jodie McVernon of the Doherty Institute and Mr Phil Gaetjens, Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, on the Doherty modelling of additional scenario and workstreams, and the Taskforce report on reopening.

Doherty’s sensitivity analysis found that the Delta variant can be managed at vaccination rates of 70% and 80% when combined with appropriate test, trace, isolate and quarantine (TTIQ) practices and public health and social measures (PHSMs) to control transmission and to manage capacity of the health system.

Doherty’s sensitivity analysis showed that, even if an outbreak starts with hundreds or thousands of cases, its original conclusions for transitioning to Phases B and C of the National Plan at 70% and 80% vaccination rates respectively remain robust.

The sensitivity analysis confirms that, when daily case numbers are in the tens or hundreds, movement to Phase B can be achieved with vaccination rates of 70% when combined with low-level PHSMs and partial TTIQ or alternatively baseline PHSMs and optimal TTIQ.

When daily case numbers are in the thousands, applying medium PHSMs in the locations of concern would be prudent and improve outcomes as Australia moves to Phase B at 70% vaccination rates, before shifting to low PHSMs from 80%. Given the pace of the vaccination roll out, the transition from 70% to 80% by jurisdiction is modelled to take around two weeks.

Doherty is now undertaking further work that focuses on synergies between vaccination, TTIQ and PHSMs at a small area level and for high-risk groups and settings, including Indigenous Australians and schools.

Professor McVernon noted the impact of COVID-19 on children is already incorporated in the Doherty’s previous modelling and the setting of targets. The best way to protect children is for the adult population, including their parents, to get vaccinated, as they are more likely to transmit COVID-19, and children experience less severe health outcomes from COVID-19.

The Doherty modelling confirms that with high vaccination and appropriate TTIQ and PHSMs to constrain outbreaks, overall cases and deaths are expected to be similar in order of magnitude to annual influenza.

The updated Doherty scenario and Taskforce summary is available on www.pmc.gov.au.

National Code on Boarding School Students

With school holidays starting in some states today, National Cabinet endorsed the National Code on Boarding School Students, previously considered by the AHPPC. The Code provides nationally consistent arrangements that help boarding school students, parents, carers and boarding school staff travel across borders between school and home, while also allowing states to take a risk-based approach to health and safety.

Another cycleway link completed

The city’s cycleway network has received a boost with works finalising on a 1.1km shared path along Watkins Street, Merewether, linking Glebe Road, The Junction, with Merewether Beach.

The 2.5m-wide shared path is the first stage of the City Centre to Merewether Cycleway project and features new and upgraded crossings making it safer for pedestrians and cyclists, and upgrades to drainage.

The-Junction-Public-School-Principal-Cath-Larkman-Lord-Mayor-Nuatali-Nelmes-and-Councillor-John-Mackenzie-at-the-new-shared-path.jpgImage: The Junction Public School Principal Cath Larkman, Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes and Councillor John Mackenzie pictured at the new 1.1km shared path, in front of a new raised crossing which links the shared path to The Junction Public School.

The $3.1million project was brought forward last year after receiving a funding boost under Newcastle’s COVID-19 stimulus capital works budget. The NSW Government also committed $600,000 to the project under the 2020/21 Walking and Cycling Program.

Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said the delivery of this significant cycleway project demonstrates City of Newcastle’s commitment to cementing Newcastle’s reputation as a cycling and pedestrian-friendly city.

“This 1.1km shared path is a demonstration of the City’s commitment to ensuring Newcastle continues to be a city which promotes and encourages active transport options,” Cr Nelmes said.

“Improved cycleways are a top priority for our community and I know this new link will be enjoyed by residents, commuters, students travelling to the nearby schools and those visiting this beautiful part of Newcastle.

“City of Newcastle will now commence planning for the second stage between the CBD and The Junction as part of the overall City Centre to Merewether Cycleway.”

Councillor John Mackenzie said it was clear that improving safety had been a key goal of everyone involved in the project.

“Improving safety has been a focus of the project and the raised crossings and wide path will provide both pedestrians and cyclists with a safe passage across what can be a busy road,” Mr Mackenzie said.

Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter Taylor Martin MLC said the State Government is helping people who want to walk and cycle as part of their everyday commute and supporting an active and healthy lifestyle, while also helping to relieve congestion on the roads and public transport.

“This project is one of 32 active transport projects across the state, including 16 in regional areas that are being delivered over the next 12 months,” Mr Martin said.

In a busy month for City of Newcastle, the completion of the Merewether shared path follows the delivery of separated cycleways on Hunter Street. City of Newcastle is also in the process of undertaking shared pathway improvements on University Drive at Birmingham Gardens and improvements are being finalised along the shared pathway at the Warabrook Wetlands.

To find out more information about cycleways and shared paths in Newcastle, visit newcastle.nsw.gov.au/cycleways

Teenager charged with murder after fatal stabbing – Lake Macquarie

Police have charged a teenage boy over the alleged fatal stabbing of one boy and the serious wounding of another in Lake Macquarie last night.

Emergency services were called to a home on Parbury Road, Swansea, following reports two boys had been stabbed in the front yard about 8.20pm (Friday 17 September 2021).

Officers from Lake Macquarie Police District found the boys, both aged 16, with stab wounds near the home.

Neighbours and police rendered assistance to the boys before NSW Ambulance paramedics arrived.

One of the boys died at the scene. The other was taken to John Hunter Hospital, where he underwent surgery and remains in a serious but stable condition.

Officers established a crime scene and commenced an investigation.

Following inquiries and a search of the area, officers found a 16-year-old boy in the backyard of the home on Parbury Road about 9.20pm (Friday 17 September 2021).

He was arrested and taken to Belmont Police Station, where he has since been charged with murder, and attempted murder.

He’s due to appear in a children’s court today (Saturday 18 September 2021).

Police will allege in court that the boy stabbed the other boys following a verbal argument outside the property.

Inquiries continue.

Female Teacher charged over alleged historical sexual abuse of three students

Detectives have charged a woman following an investigation into the alleged sexual abuse of three male students in Sydney’s east more than 40 years ago.

In May this year, detectives from Eastern Beaches Police Area Command established Strike Force Sportsground to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by a female teacher at a school in Sydney’s east in the 1970s and 1980s.

During the investigation, police received information that three boys – then aged 13, 14 and 15 – were sexually assaulted by a female teacher while at a school in Sydney’s east between 1977 and 1980.

Following extensive investigations, strike force detectives arrested a 67-year-old woman at a home at St Ives just before 8am today (Friday 17 September 2021).

The woman was taken to Hornsby Police Station and charged with 14 counts of indecent assault on male.

She was granted strict conditional bail to appear at Waverley Local Court on Wednesday 6 October 2021.

Investigations under Strike Force Sportsground are continuing.

Man charged after alleged armed robbery – Jesmond

A man will face court today charged after an alleged armed robbery in the Newcastle area yesterday.

About 4.45pm (Wednesday 15 September 2021), a man entered a business on Blue Gum Road, Jesmond, and allegedly threatened a shop assistant with a firearm while demanding cash.

The man allegedly stole a sum of cash and four bottles of alcohol, before leaving the store.

The male shop assistant and two other men in the store at the time, were not hurt during the incident.

Police were alerted and officers from Newcastle City Police Area Command commenced inquiries.

A short time later, following information from the public, officers arrested a 24-year-old man outside a house in nearby Heaton Street.

The man was taken to Newcastle Police Station and charged with robbery while armed with dangerous weapon, possess unauthorised pistol, not wear fitted face covering in retail/business premises, not ensure true and accurate info provided to Service NSW, and not comply with noticed direction – COVID-19.

He was refused bail to appear today (Thursday 16 September 2021) at Newcastle Local Court.

Porter’s got to go

The Greens say the Prime Minister should dump Christian Porter from his Ministry, and that the so-called “investigation” into whether the secret donation is a breach of Ministerial Standards is yet another delaying tactic from a government allergic to transparency and accountability.

Greens deputy leader and spokesperson on democracy Senator Larissa Waters said:

“It’s patently obvious that Christian Porter has breached the PM’s own Ministerial Standards, and punting it to Gaetjens is clearly a delaying tactic, given his form.

“The Prime Minister’s Ministerial Standards prevent a Minister from seeking or encouraging gifts in their personal capacity and note the need for declaration and transparency. It is not acceptable for a Cabinet Minister to accept money without having to declare how much it was and who it was from.

“The PM should stop protecting his mates and simply dump Porter from the Ministry. If he doesn’t do that, Greens leader Adam Bandt will move a motion of no confidence in Minister Porter when parliament resumes, and I will do the same in the form of a censure motion in the Senate.

“We also need to know who set up this blind trust, who contributed to it and how much was given. That’s why the Greens will use all parliamentary levers available to try to bring the transparency and integrity that is lacking in this faux disclosure.

“Yesterday I wrote to the Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department, seeking an investigation into whether the failure to disclose the source of the funds is in breach of the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act 2018. If it is not a formal breach, but there is any concern of possible influence, I have asked the Secretary to refer the matter to the Standing Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests.

“I have also asked the Chair of the Standing Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests whether that Committee can compel Minister Porter to disclose the identity and amounts of donors. If the answer is as I fear – that the rules don’t require that – Adam Bandt and I will move for changes to the Register of Interests rules in both chambers to ensure that ‘blind trusts’ cannot be used to obscure the identity of donors.

“This government has no regard for parliamentary standards and no care for the damage it’s doing to public confidence in our democracy.

“The hypocrisy is shocking, when Liberal backbenchers have been on the attack against charities, NGOs and Voices for Independents campaigns claiming public interest in greater transparency.

“This whole sorry saga is yet more proof that we need a federal corruption watchdog and much stronger donations caps and disclosure limits.”

$10 million to enhance digital frontline health care

The Morrison Government is investing $10 million in research projects using the latest digital and mobile technology to improve primary health care delivery.

Australian researchers can now apply for grants to undertake this critical research through the landmark Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).

Two areas of primary health care research will be funded – one to test and implement new applications of existing wearable electronic devices, and the other to examine new ways to deliver point-of-care testing, particularly for those in rural and remote areas.

Whilst most patients in Australia can access pathology testing services, point-of-care testing has the potential to significantly enhance access to diagnostic technologies and clinical management models, including patient engagement, compliance, safety, and satisfaction.

By further understanding wearables, it’s hoped that digital health will allow individuals to better manage their own health and lifestyle as part of a coordinated care with their GP, requiring fewer visits to their GP.

Research is the key to better health care and treatments – and the Australian Government is investing record amounts in Australian health and medical research.

Our Government is committed to using digital information, as well as new health technologies and tools, to remotely deliver quality, convenient health care to Australians, regardless of location.

The grant opportunity will be managed through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). It is funded over two years from 2021–22 to 2022–23.

The grant opportunity is under the MRFF Primary Health Care Research Initiative. This Initiative provides $45 million over nine years to enable or support an increase in Australia’s evidence base in primary health care through research to improve service delivery and patient outcomes and translate this knowledge into action.

The Government’s $20 billion MRFF is a long-term, sustainable investment in Australian health and medical research helping to improve lives, build the economy and contribute to the sustainability of the health system.

Aged care workforce leads the nation in vaccination uptake

The Morrison Government has commended workers across Australia’s aged care sector for their extraordinary commitment to protect themselves and those they care for.

As the first sector to benefit from a national approach to mandatory vaccinations, staff at residential aged care facilities nationwide have shown leadership and a willingness to put others first.

Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, and Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck, said the uptake in vaccinations has provided a blueprint for others to follow.

“Residential aged care workers are leading the nation’s overall vaccination rates,” Minister Hunt said.  “It is encouraging that almost all residential aged care workers have taken action to protect themselves, their communities and the senior Australians in their care.

“It is a reflection of the commitment of the workforce and the partnership between the Government, aged care peaks and unions in supporting the mandatory vaccination order.”

While every life lost to COVID-19 is tragic, the increasing rate of vaccination across the aged care workforce has had a clear impact when the number of deaths in residential aged care this year are compared to the first wave of the virus in 2020.

To date, 95.8 per cent of residential aged care workers have received a first dose of a COVID‑19 vaccine. 76.9 per cent of workers are fully vaccinated.

These rates are higher than those across the community and reflects the determination of staff and administrators.

It also represents one of the highest workforce vaccination rates in the world.

Careful compliance measures will take effect once weekly figures are updated on 22 September, in line with the state and territory public health orders on mandatory COVID-19 vaccination in residential aged care.

Facilities where employees are yet to complete their vaccination will now become the focus of further specific in-reach clinics.

The public health orders give effect to National Cabinet’s decision on 28 June 2021 to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory in residential aged care, informed by the expert medical advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC).

Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck, expressed his thanks to the aged care workforce, providers, provider peak bodies and worker representatives for their efforts.

“It has been a significant effort from all concerned,” Minister Colbeck said. “I thank them and congratulate them.”

He said the next step was to ensure providers correctly reported vaccination rates and any authorised exemptions via the My Age Care Portal.

“The Government, through the Department of Health and with the support of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, will engage directly with providers and individual facilities to discuss the vaccination and exemption data to clarify if there are any unvaccinated workers or where there may be exemptions that may apply,” Minister Colbeck said.

“While the data shows only a small number of workers may choose to not be vaccinated and leave the sector, facilities will need to demonstrate measures are in place to ensure continued quality of care and appropriate COVID-19 preparation and risk management.

“This will be done in a careful and constructive manner.”

Facilities will be required to confirm and implement strategies for addressing non-medical exemptions and ensuring plans are in place for workers yet to be vaccinated within a limited period.

Approved providers are responsible for ensuring the ongoing delivery of safe and quality care to residents at all times – including staffing their services appropriately.

Where providers experience a shortage of staff, there are a range of options available including to call on or expand arrangements with external recruitment agencies to ensure their services are adequately staffed.

Providers of facilities which fail to meet the requirements may face regulatory action via the Commission or penalties in line with state or territory public health orders.

The mandatory vaccination deadline and increasing vaccination rates in the community also marks an important opportunity for aged care administrators to review their rules around visitation, ensuring residents, particularly those with dementia, have access to family and friends.

Providers have an important responsibility to support visitation by adopting screening protocols, encouraging the use of masks, and monitoring the use of common areas to support social distancing.

Providers can access Aged Care Visitation guidelines here.

The Industry Code for Visiting Residential Aged Care Homes during COVID-19 can be found here.