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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 7132


Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyMinister for Health) (18:35): I thank the shadow minister for her question on the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. I am not sure whether she was here for the earlier answer on bowel cancer screening.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: No.

Ms PLIBERSEK: The Bowel Cancer Screening Program is moving first of all to five-yearly screening for the target population group and then eventually to biennial screening for the target population group. The reason the introduction of the screening and the expansion of the screening has been staged is that when people undertake the tests, as you increase the population group undertaking the test, you increase the number of people who have something of concern that needs further investigation. That something of concern that needs further investigation often results in a person being referred for a colonoscopy. The workforce constraints, the medical equipment constraints and the number of colonoscopies that we can do could not, if we flicked a switch tomorrow, cover all of the people who would be picked up by screening. With the help of our clinical advisers people who will turn 60 on the 1 July 2013 will join the program. From 1 July 2015 people turning 70 will be invited to participate in the screening—so we move to five-yearly screening. About five million Australians will be offered screening over the next four years requiring an investment of around an extra $50 million.

We have locked in our commitment for two-yearly screening for all Australians aged between 50 and 74. The next group that will be added are 72-year-olds. From 2017 invitations to undergo screening every two years will be progressively extended to all Australians aged between 50 and 74 years of age, as I said, starting with 72-year-olds in 2017. The two-yearly screening is in line with the NHMRC recommendation, but Cancer Australia and other cancer advocacy organisations have welcomed this recommendation and understand the importance of phasing because they understand that it is important to have the facilities and the personnel in place to do the screening.

The member or Mackellar has also asked about whether faecal occult blood testing will be the most appropriate screening available in 2034. It is absolutely impossible to know the answer to that. People will be offered screening and the method of that screening will be something for clinical decision by clinicians and researchers in partnership with the government in 2034. I certainly hope that the member for Mackellar and I are around to have this discussion in 2034. The great thing about medical science and health and medical research is that new treatments, new tests and new preventions are being discovered all the time. I would hope that the member for Mackellar is just as excited as I am about the potential for an easier, less invasive test than colonoscopy somewhere down the track.

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop: Precisely the point I was making.

Ms PLIBERSEK: Then it is a ridiculous point to make. To say that we are unhappy that there will be better tests, perhaps, in 2034 is a ridiculous point to make.

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop interjecting

Ms PLIBERSEK: This is an invitation to undergo a test. If a better test is invented by 2034, we will all be kicking our heels up. We will be excited; we will happy. That will be a good thing. It will be a good thing for individuals and for our health system. I think the other question was about the net medical expenses tax offset. The means test for the net medical expenses tax offset allows the government to create greater capacity in health, education and other priority areas of spending. We are targeting our tax offsets for net medical expenses to those who most need them. (Time expired)