Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, has announced he will retire from politics at the next election in 2022, prompting a flood of praise from healthcare industry leaders.
Mr Hunt, who has served in the House of Representatives since 2001 and been health minister since 2017, said he wanted to spend more time with his family.
Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA) CEO, Michael Roff, said the Flinders MP had made his mark on the national healthcare system.
“Greg Hunt has overseen some of the most challenging times for the healthcare sector, leading the Australian response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
“His efforts at the outset of the pandemic ensured Australians had access to the full hospital system – bringing public and private hospitals together in an historic agreement.
“This deal meant all Australians had access to the 657 hospitals, 35,000 beds, and 57,000 nurses in the private hospital sector, which was put into practice most notably in Victoria in 2020.
“Coming to an agreement in a matter of days was no small feat and is a testament to Mr Hunt’s negotiation skills.”
Mr Roff said the health minister had also led a review of Australia’s private health insurance sector.
“Mr Hunt worked with the private health sector and introduced important reforms like the instant upgrade of private health insurance for Australians in need of psychiatric hospital admission,” he said.
“This recognised the role private mental health facilities play as well as the need for better access to services.
“Since setting out his ‘four pillars’ long-term health plan, Mr Hunt has worked towards ensuring high-quality healthcare is available to Australians.
“He has recognised the important role the private hospital sector has in delivering high-quality healthcare for millions of Australians every year and worked closely with us to achieve his goals.”
Mr Roff said there was still work to do, including reforms of the Prostheses List, which Mr Hunt had been leading.
“I look forward to continuing my work with Mr Hunt until the end of this parliamentary term,” he said.
“I acknowledge his willingness to listen to all sides of a debate and not always take the easy route.
“He has never shirked from tough discussions and has put Australian patients at the forefront of his thinking.
“I wish Greg all the very best for his retirement from parliament and the next stage of his career.”
Dr Omar Khorshid, President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), said his organisation had worked closely with the minister to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The delivery of the vaccination program and the necessary changes to service delivery in primary care and hospitals has often involved a difficult and delicate balancing act, requiring close co-operation between the medical profession and the minister,” Dr Khorshid said.
“Minister Hunt supported the role of GPs at the frontline of the COVID vaccination program, utilising the strong relationships and trusted position that GPs have with the vulnerable people at higher risk of contracting the virus.
“This was on the strong advice of the AMA and the success of the vaccination program, despite the extraordinary pressures on GPs, is a testament to the minister’s relationship with the AMA and the broader profession.”
The AMA also praised Mr Hunt for helping to make telehealth more accessible, particularly during lockdowns, as well his work stabilising medical indemnity insurance and changes to codeine scheduling.
“Mr Hunt’s first call when becoming health minister was to the AMA, and his ongoing engagement since then – even when we had significant disagreements – has been very much appreciated,” Dr Khorshid said.
Trent Twomey, National President of the Pharmacy Guild, said Mr Hunt had been an outstanding minister.
“At the Guild, we have had very close dealings with the minister and have found his commitment to patients and to universal healthcare to be unwavering,” he said.
“He has brought more medicines onto the PBS (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme), enabling more Australians access to the medicines they need.
“He is a great advocate for the community pharmacy sector, and recognises the pivotal role pharmacists play as primary healthcare providers improving the health outcomes of communities across all areas of Australia.
“His knowledge and understanding of the wide range of issues in his portfolio is legendary and has helped him achieve the reforms and progress that are characteristic of his ministry.”
Dr Karen Price, President of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, also thanked Mr Hunt for his service.
“Everyone involved in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and national vaccine rollout has worked pretty much 24 hours a day, seven days a week for nearly two years, doing all we can to protect our community,” she said.
“Mr Hunt has been evidence-based throughout the pandemic response and vaccine rollout and I have personally appreciated that.
“The fact that he’s been willing to listen to the science has meant we’ve been able to manage the virus and come to a good outcome for Australia, particularly compared to other countries.”