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Monday, 21 October 2002
Page: 5479


Senator McGAURAN (2:41 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Family and Community Services and the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Vanstone. Will the minister update the Senate on how Australia's health care and social security systems are assisting the victims of the terrorist attacks in Bali and their families?


Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —I thank Senator McGauran for the question. Senators may like to know that Senator Patterson, on behalf of the government, is visiting a number of hospitals around Australia that are treating victims of the Bali bombing. Following the remarks that she made last week in the Senate, her department has continued to liaise with state and territory health authorities on the availability of hospital treatment capability especially in relation to burns patients. The advice received is that critical care units, while under stress, still have capacity to take additional patients. At present some 94 victims are being treated in Australian hospitals: 38 in Perth, 22 in Sydney, 14 in Darwin and fewer than 10 in Melbourne and Adelaide.

Media reports have suggested that certain organisms resistant to antibiotics and never seen before by Australian doctors have been isolated from the wounds of Australian patients brought to Australian hospitals from Bali. Expert advice available to the department of health is that a small number of organisms resistant to several antibiotics have been isolated. However, these bacteria have been previously isolated from time to time in Australian hospitals and Senator Patterson has been assured that there are alternative antibiotics available in Australia to which these bacteria are sensitive and that the burns can be properly treated.

The federal government has agreed to cover any out-of-pocket expenses for the treatment of injuries as a result of the bombings in Bali. The assistance will cover the difference between the Medicare rebate and the fee charged by the doctor for medical services. It will cover the full cost of medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, including any co-payments that would normally be payable, and the cost of allied health services that are certified by a doctor as necessary and related to the injury. The government will also be paying the cost of air fares or road or rail transport for the patient and accompanying family members to travel from hospital to their home town.

Three seriously injured Indonesian patients were flown to Darwin on Saturday, 19 October and their families accompanied them. Unfortunately one of the patients died shortly after being admitted to the Darwin hospital. The two others were transferred to Perth later that day. The health department has worked with Australian and Indonesian medical staff in Bali to obtain descriptions of the injuries of Indonesian nationals who may be evacuated to Australia so that hospitals can be well informed prior to their arrival. Importantly, last Friday the government authorised that non-Australian victims of the bombings being treated in our hospitals would be treated as Medicare patients.

Counselling is a major concern. Each state and territory has put in place counselling services for the many people who may have been traumatised by the event, and the government has asked to be advised if any further assistance in providing these services is required. Further to that, as a part of its national coordination role, the Department of Health and Ageing is assisting in the compilation of a full list of people who have been admitted to Australian hospitals as a result of injuries in Bali. That list will help health authorities in the management of longer term health support, including access to mental health services later.

Centrelink is running a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week hotline that Australians can reach by dialling 13 61 25. They can get help for themselves and for their families and friends including streamlined access to financial support, possibly a two-week special payment, access to social workers and counselling, financial assistance for travel and a daily living allowance for people visiting hospitalised relatives in Australia and for those intending to travel to Bali to identify relatives. Centrelink has made contact with all hospitals and state services to offer support and assistance with counselling and information.