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Monday, 23 May 2011
Page: 4195


Mr WYATT (Hasluck) (12:51): I rise today to support the motion put forward by my colleague the member for Shortland on the seriousness of cardiovascular disease and its implications for the health of Australians. Cardiovascular disease is a heart and blood vessel disease that kills one Australian every 11 minutes. Sadly, I have had a long and personal association with sufferers of cardiovascular disease. In my time as director of Aboriginal health in New South Wales and Western Australia, I had the opportunity to visit and spend time with cardiovascular disease patients in programs on both sides of the country.

Cardiovascular disease covers all diseases and conditions of the heart and blood vessels. There are many forms and causes of diseases in this diverse group. The main underlying problem is atherosclerosis. In this condition, abnormal build-ups of fat, cholesterol and other substances occur in the inner lining of arteries. It is most serious when it affects the blood supply to the heart, causing angina or heart attack, or to the brain, which can lead to a stroke. It is a slow and complex process, often starting in childhood, and it progresses with age.

The major preventable risk factors for cardiovascular disease are tobacco smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, insufficient physical activity, overweight and obesity, poor nutrition, diabetes and risky alcohol consumption. It is estimated that 92 per cent of Australian adults have at least one risk factor and almost 40 per cent have three or more risk factors. I would hazard a guess that many of us in this House belong to that 40 per cent.

Cardiovascular disease affects more than 3.4 million Australians and prevents 1.4 million from living a full life because of the disability caused by it. In 2008, for example, it claimed the lives of almost 50,000 Australians. Cardiovascular disease is the most expensive disease group in terms of direct healthcare expenditure, at $5.9 billion. Advances in cardiovascular disease research, detection, prevention and care management plans have seen a reduction in the loss of life. I have lost family members to this disease and know firsthand the pain and suffering that those left behind must go through every day of their waking lives as they miss a member of the family. The tragedy is that the majority of these deaths were preventable.

I commend successive governments for their work in helping to change the culture of smoking in Australia. It is having an effect. When you travel overseas, one of the first things you notice is how many people are smoking and where they are allowed to smoke. Returning to Australia, it is nice to be able to breathe fresh air, most of the time, without someone blowing smoke in your face. This antismoking effort has long been bipartisan in Australia, and long may it continue. But there needs to be more effort to re-engage those people in Australia who are under the impression that, if we do not smoke, then our risk of cardiovascular disease is very low. Unfortunately this is not the case. Many of us now live very sedentary lifestyles. We get in the car, go to work, come home and sit down to work or watch television. This is understandable, especially as people are working more hours now than ever before.

A result of this increased work-life imbalance is poor nutrition. After a long day it is often too easy to get a takeaway meal or cook something very basic at home. This is why places like McDonald's and Hungry Jack's become very popular, because of the convenience aspect. This can lead to high blood pressure, being overweight, diabetes and increasing cholesterol levels.

Kidney failure as a result of the above is a devastating long-term health consequence which kills thousands of Australians every year. I know people that receive regular dialysis and it is very challenging for them personally and for the families who have to care for that person. There are many initiatives to try and warn the public of the dangers of cardiovascular disease, but often we are too busy to hear them. However, I commend these efforts.

I would like, not dissimilarly to my colleague, to put on the record the warning signs of a heart attack, so that people reading this might call for an ambulance if they notice the symptoms themselves or in someone else. Discomfort or pain in the centre of the chest is a key signal of an impending heart attack. Along with this is discomfort in the arms or neck, shoulders, jaw or the back. Other signs include shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, cold sweats or light-headedness. I too would like to call on more Australians to take a senior first aid course so they can help save the life of someone having a heart attack. Just last week, I saw a person being resuscitated on the side of the road not far from my electoral office. The people kept the man alive until an ambulance could fight its way through peak hour traffic. Those few moments are crucial. Without CPR, many people that are here today would have passed away before help could arrive.

But we know of course that prevention is better than a cure. I support local initiatives such as the 'walk to work and 'walk to school' days when they arise, and when taking public transport I try and get off a stop early so that I am forced to walk to my destination. Just 30 minutes a day of regular walking or exercise makes a dramatic difference to a person's cardiovascular health. None of these things are easy. Most of us are so busy we hardly take time to relax, let alone exercise. But it is also important that more effort needs to be made to ensure we live productive and healthier lives. I would like this House to note that the recognition of a heart attack and an early response increases cardiovascular awareness which, in turn, saves lives and prevents a related disability. I would also like this House to acknowledge that the promotion of healthy eating and increased exercise will lead to healthier lifestyles and a reduction in cardiovascular disease.

Like the member for Shortland, I have been part of many programs in this country that have shaped some thinking around compliance with medications. But in addition to the compliance with medications and the management plans that are put in place, there is the whole notion that exercise is absolutely critical, along with the reduction of the factors that cause cardiovascular disease.

In New South Wales I had the opportunity of working with a group of people who developed a program called the Mini Olympics. What was incredible was that people with chronic diseases, in particular cardiovascular diseases, used to come to these Mini Olympics. They did it for two reasons. One was that they shared information about what their health problem was and what they could do about it and they could take tips from each other in order to improve both their physical health condition and also their mental condition. Taking a positive attitude alleviates the depression that people often feel when they get a debilitating illness or a disease that in a sense creates a disability for them.

I was asked to join in and I lined up behind a lady who had had a significant heart attack requiring open heart surgery. They had lines marked so that when you were playing in the Mini Olympics you stood according to your degree of incapability or the stress it would put on you. I took my turn and stood on the front line and she said, 'Hey, you, back here. You have not had a heart attack. You have not had an operation so you have to stand on the back line in order to play.'

The thing I liked was the competitiveness between the towns in the south-eastern region of New South Wales where they do this. The other element was the way in which they would talk quite openly about the cardiovascular diseases, the doctors and the specialists they had. And they helped each other. They talked about nutrition, the exercises they did and the things that they did when they were alone at home. So it did not become a barrier. What I liked was the positivity. I too join with the member for Shortland in any work that we do around increasing the knowledge of cardiovascular disease and the way we can prevent it.

But more important is bring quality to the lives of families, particularly those who have lost someone as well. Too often I have seen individuals impacted by the loss of a life due to a heart attack. But the more telling one is those who have strokes. I have seen some very capable and gifted people lose their capability to communicate and to do the things they had been doing prior to the stroke. The frustration that one must feel within that body would be quite noticeable, and I hope that I never reach that stage. I must admit that my other half has bought me one of those elliptical walking machines in order for me to lose weight. It is so easy for us as members of this House to accumulate weight because of all the functions we attend, the commitments that we have and the sedentary life that we lead in this chamber.