The Consumers Health Forum of Australia (CHF) is the national peak body representing the interests of Australian healthcare consumers.
In their previous webinar, Minister Butler has expressed the importance of health consumer contribution into healthcare strategy.
At the opening of the June 2023 webinar, he echoed the value of contribution by health consumers and emphasised the importance of co-design healthcare system with consumers.
The May Budget is focusing on strengthening Medicare and rebuilding General Practice. He envisages to deliver his promises by rolling out innovative services that encourages collaborations.
For the June webinar, I submitted my burning question to ask the Health Minister. When I heard my name, I was elated! Despite “Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME)” was removed from the question, it was still worthwhile to draw the minister’s attention to the care needs for the emerging disease that does not have a medical specialty.
I appreciated the minister’s holistic understanding of the issue and acknowledgement of scale of the challenge. I also value his honesty in answering the “difficult” question.
Here are my takeaway points. I intentionally not adding my opinion and wishes to the points.
- Three categories of Long Covid;
- resolves within 3 months
- quite specific conditions or sequelae, they might be cardiac, for example, but require treatment from a cardiologist
- longer, multi system disorders. Some 200 different symptoms that have been categorised across the international literature that are hard to diagnose, and hard to treat. (that would fall under ME and ME/CFS diagnostic criteria)
- Possibly different prevalence and characteristic in Australia from the UK and the US due to timing of vaccination roll out
- The MRFF for Long Covid will focus on understanding Australian prevalence.
- Long Covid expert advisory panel will have consumer representation on it.
- GPs need to know that they can treat patients with existing knowledge and plans,
- the chronic disease management items in the MBS are available for Long Covid
- no need to wait to for six months if the treating practitioner is of the view clinically that the condition is likely to last beyond six months.
- able to access the CDM the chronic disease management items before six months is actually up.
- there is substantial capacity in the Medicare system to treat these conditions.
- The challenge is the clinical workforce.
- being able to diagnose it in a timely fashion and being able to treat it.
- The government is very worried about the scale of this challenge for people impacted by Long Covid and for the health system. And they are continuing to have to pay attention to.
Here is the video recording of the webinar shared by CHF. And the transcript of Long Covid Q & A.
At around 44 min, Dr Elizabeth Deveny, CEO for the Consumers Health Forum asked the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Hon. Mark Butler MP.
Dr Elizabeth Denvey:
Rachel Makepeace and Christine Yates raised this issue, the money that was announced a Long Covid research $50 million. It’s still, you know, there are problems in relation to getting good diagnosis getting the treatment you want. And how what’s your plan involving consumers in decisions about how Long Covid is researched and then how it’s managed in the community?
Hon. Mark Butler MP:
Yeah, thank you.
This is a diabolically complex area. Very diverse range of conditions into this basket were described as Long Covid.
Some of which results in the first three months after infection. With not much impact beyond the three months.
Some of which are quite specific conditions or sequelae, they might be cardiac, for example, but require treatment from a cardiologist.
And some of which, the third sort of category are longer, multi system disorders. And I think there’s like some 200 different symptoms that have been categorised across the international literature that are hard to diagnose, and hard to treat.
And understanding the prevalence of this issue in in Australia has been a challenge. We had a parliamentary inquiry that many of you might have followed or even participated in the Mark Freelander chaired that informed a lot of our initial response over the last month or six weeks.
Because we wanted to understand the prevalence here in Australia that’s quite different to the prevalence in the US and the UK, which is really been the source of most of the global studies because so many patients or so many people in the US EU UK were infected before widespread vaccination the vast bulk of infections.
Here in Australia, by contrast, took place after vaccination, we know that the impact here is still very substantial but qualitatively and quantitatively, probably be a bit different to the UK and US. That’s why we have a recommendation from that parliamentary inquiry decided to allocate substantial funds to research.
We’re in the process, as we always do in MRFF, the Medical Research Future Fund, we’re in the process of putting together an expert advisory panel, which will have consumer representation on it. And then start funding research projects that will be properly peer reviewed and the like.
The other big question that people ask is how do I get service now? One of the things we’ve been at pains to stress is that obviously that the first source and for most patients, the main source of support and treatment they’ll get is from their primary care provider, generally their general practice.
And we’ve tried to be clear that the chronic disease management items in the MBS are available there you don’t actually have to wait to for six months if the treating practitioner is of the view clinically that the condition is likely to last beyond six months. They’re able to access the CDM the chronic disease management items before six months is actually up.
So, we’re trying to be sort of clear with GPs particularly about that.
Some states have been funding Long Covid clinics. They’re able to do that under the health reform agreement, the hospital funding agreement, that we contribute pretty much half of the funds to. They’ll make their own decisions about that. And I know that there are different approaches being taken in different states.
But, you know, I really want to stress that there is substantial capacity in the Medicare system to treat these conditions.
The challenge is obviously, the clinical workforce, understanding being able to diagnose it in a timely fashion and being able to treat it.
You know, I think we’re all very worried about the scale of this challenge. Most obviously, for people impacted by that for the health system as well.
You know, there are different numbers tossed around but whichever number even if you lose, use some of the lower numbers, we’re talking about very large numbers of Australians hit by one of those three categories as I described them, one of those sort of three categories of Long Covid.
And it’s something that that we are continuing to have to pay attention to.