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Monday, 10 September 2018
Page: 103


Mr RICK WILSON (O'Connor) (19:45): Cancer touches the lives of so many people, young and old. I'm blessed to have a family untouched by cancer, from my 92-year-old mother, who still enjoys great health, right down to my four beautiful children, but not everybody is so lucky. While O'Connor is fortunate to have many dedicated specialists working in the regions, I often encounter constituents who need to travel long distances and endure protracted separation from their families to receive the therapies that they require. For many, the stress of temporarily relocating to Perth is compounded by the financial burden of these potentially life-saving treatments in addition to the cost of travel and transport. A recent study by the University of WA suggests that nearly every rural cancer patient experienced considerable out-of-pocket expenses while undergoing potentially life-saving treatments. The survey found that rural patients paid out-of-pocket expenses of around $2,100 per person, with the cost of accommodation making up around 12 per cent and fuel around eight per cent.

I recognise we cannot have comprehensive cancer care services in every town in O'Connor, but the city of Albany, with a broader catchment of 60,000-plus people, represents the largest area outside of Perth and Bunbury where patients do not have local access to radiation oncology services. Great Southern cancer patients who require radiotherapy need to travel for treatment. With the average length of treatment being four weeks and in some instances as long as seven weeks, this is a long time to be away from home. Many patients who would benefit from radiotherapy opt for other treatments or choose no treatment at all. Such is the burden of travelling when so ill.

Last July, the federal government, through the Radiation Oncology Health Program Grants Scheme, approved $6.6 million in capital funding to support medical equipment for a radiation oncology service to be located in Albany. In the letter to grant recipient Genesis Cancer Care, the government acknowledged that there was a demonstrated need in the Great Southern region of O'Connor. This federal funding will be spent on a linear accelerator, a CT simulator and a CT interfacing planning and computer system set up for three work stations. There will be a requirement for a top-up of this federal funding to achieve a planned operational date of 30 June 2019. Currently, patients from the Great Southern are funded to undergo treatment in Perth or Bunbury and they receive state government financial support in the form of the Patient Assisted Travel Scheme. The opportunity exists to redirect this funding towards providing a gold-standard radiotherapy treatment facility in Albany. To this end, I've written to the state Minister for Health, Roger Cook, who has responsibility for PATS and the capital infrastructure funding for public health services in WA. I have appealed to the state to assist in the prompt installation and operation of this much needed radiotherapy facility.

I take this opportunity to acknowledge key businesses and individuals, many of whom have had their lives touched by cancer and have made it clear they back this project for their Great Southern community. I give a special shout-out to Mary Williams who has been pivotal in disseminating information and raising funds for this much needed radiation facility. While Mary has very much understated her role, she has been involved in fundraisers, including everything from sausage sizzles to a 24-hour radiothon. There are ongoing fundraisers planned, including a dinner at the Princess Royal Yacht Club, fundraising at the street festival in Denmark, fashion parades in Albany, and quiz nights, dances and street stalls throughout the Great Southern. Mary has named the Mayor of the City of Albany, Dennis Wellington, as a great supporter, along with the Denmark Community Foundation, the Denmark CRC, the Denmark Medical Centre, IGA, Red Dot, Albany Party Hire, Soroptimist International, and others too numerous to name. Mary and her team of volunteers have conducted an information campaign, including street signage along our regional roads and infomercials in local medical centres. Local farmers have lent their eye-catching support by wrapping their silage in multicoloured covers, creating a colourful patchwork throughout the paddocks of the Great Southern.

This morning I spoke to the federal Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, thanking him on behalf of the Great Southern community for his commitment of $6.6 million towards this essential project. Mr Hunt has committed to visiting Albany at the first possible opportunity to meet with cancer sufferers, their families and support networks and our dedicated regional medical practitioners and specialists. I thank all who have given generously of their time, money and effort to support the establishment of a gold standard radiotherapy service in the Great Southern. I hope that in the very near future we will see our cancer patients undergo life-saving treatments close to home with the support of family and friends and the doctors and ancillary health workers they know and trust.