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Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Page: 342

Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (18:40): I speak in support of the National Health and Amendment (Fifth Community Pharmacy Agreement Initiatives) Bill 2011. I had the privilege of being a delegate to the national conference of the ALP in December 2011 and there I heard one of the best speeches at that national conference by a minister in relation to the national platform. In an earlier address in November 2011, the then Minister for Health and Ageing, the Hon. Nicola Roxon, made this point:

As Australians there are many things about our society that define us.

She talked about four pillars of our society that Australians expect to be universal and available for all: health care, education, retirement benefits and social security. The shadow minister would be well advised to read that speech because it should form the basis of the coalition's policy at the next election. We should note that the shadow minister was very critical of the national health reforms, particularly in the areas of pharmaceuticals. Health and Hospital reform has been mentioned many times, and even today in his wide-ranging speech he was very critical of what we are doing.

Health care is of particular importance to the Australian community. Health expenditure increased to 9.4 per cent of Australia's GDP in 2009, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report Health expenditure Australia 2009-10. It highlighted the fact that this federal Labor government has contributed a record $52.9 billion to Australia's healthcare sector in 2009-10, representing an increase of $13 billion or over 32 per cent compared with the previous coalition government's contribution.

We have a record as a reforming government, and the legislation before the House today is in that particular vein—a reforming piece of legislation. In her second reading speech on 23 November 2011 about this bill, the then Minister for Health and Ageing said:

These initiatives represent another important step in improving services for Australian health consumers, and will bring pharmacists even closer to the centre of the Gillard Labor government's health reform agenda.

She talked about four pillars in her speech, as I said. She also talked about the healthcare pillar in her second reading speech on 23 November 2011. She said:

A pillar of these reforms is the $15.4 billion, five-year Fifth Community Pharmacy Agreement, particularly the clear role within it for pharmacists to improve professional practice and patient care.

We heard the shadow minister talk about this and he was quite critical of our position. But I am interested in what third parties have to say about the healthcare reforms of this federal Labor government, which have poured so much money into health care to make sure we have more doctors, nurses and less bureaucracy, less waste and shorter waiting times. That has been our agenda and that is why we have come to an agreement with the states through the COAG process.

On 24 November 2011, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia issued a press release supporting the legislation without amendment—and I note the shadow minister wants to make amendments to this legislation. The Pharmacy Guild urged parliament to pass this legislation as is and said:

The move towards continued dispensing medicines by pharmacists in defined circumstances will deliver better health outcomes for Australian consumers and should be supported by Federal Parliament.

... ... ...

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia fully supports the measure because it is in the best interests of health consumers.

Do not listen to the shadow minister, listen to the independent party, the Pharmacy Guild. And listen to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare when it comes to what this government has invested in health funding for hospitals, which were sorely neglected when the now Leader of the Opposition ripped a billion dollars out of the healthcare sector when he was the minister. The Pharmacy Guild make this point in the press release:

Continued dispensing will provide an additional mechanism for patients to gain access to certain Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) medicines where a valid prescription is unavailable. This could apply, for example, in cases where a prescription has been lost and a doctor consultation is not readily available. Professional protocols will apply, so that quality and patient safety will not be compromised.

As the guild mentions, the measure applies to two particular items: oral hormonal contraceptives and lipid modifying agents used in the treatment of high cholesterol. The Pharmacy Guild—lest it be said that they want to take over the role of doctors—make this point in the press release:

Pharmacists value their close working relationships with general practitioners and specialists, and the Guild is confident that this limited measure will ensure optimal outcomes for patients without jeopardising relationships between pharmacists and doctors.

There will be a review in two years time. The shadow minister is accurate when he says that. In point of fact, there has been some criticism by the AMA in relation to this, as I understand it, but the truth is that this is an important measure.

Consumers will certainly benefit from these initiatives. They will benefit from the medication charts initiative. Doctors will have more time to spend on clinical care. There will be improved patient safety through a reduced risk of transcription errors, and there are a number of other benefits as well. We think this is important legislation. Particularly there are two initiatives funded through the Fifth Community Pharmacy Agreement, an agreement that the government came to with the pharmacists in this country. The two initiatives in this legislation are the 'supply and PBS claiming from a medication chart in residential aged-care facilities' and 'continued dispensing of PBS medicines in defined circumstances'. The initiatives boil down to one important principle: ensuring good health outcomes for all Australians. This bill is good for our country and it is good for the communities that I represent in Blair and South-east Queensland.

In particular, this bill addresses the needs of patients in regional and rural Australia, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those living in residential aged-care facilities. About 170,000 Australians live in residential aged-care facilities. We spend a lot of money on residential aged-care facilities. They take up about two-thirds of the aged-care funding in this country. We need to make sure that those facilities are safe and secure, well funded and well resourced, so that people can live good-quality lives with clear choices and dignity and respect in their older years.

I applaud the Department of Health and Ageing for its broad community consultation in relation to the two initiatives in this bill, because these initiatives focus on patients and they target areas of genuine need in the community. The continued dispensing of PBS medicines in defined circumstances would allow pharmacists to provide an urgent supply of a limited number of medicines, as I described earlier, for long-term therapy where a valid prescription is unavailable despite the best efforts of both patient and pharmacist. As I say, it is limited to oral contraceptives and some cholesterol reduction medications. This initiative promotes compliance with ongoing treatment of chronic conditions as well. The other initiative would introduce supply and claiming of PBS medicines from a medication chart in residential aged-care facilities. These initiatives are sensible, they are beneficial to patients and they strengthen the community pharmacies program. Community pharmacies are critical components of health care in our nation.

Reform does cost, but reform can be undertaken in a practical way that helps people. I have always had a keen interest in aged care. I was a lawyer for many aged-care facilities in Queensland and, for about 14 years before I was elected, I served on the board of an organisation that ran aged-care facilities throughout Queensland. Indeed, my family has, for three generations, been involved in aged care in the Ipswich area.

We need to make significant changes to not just manage but reform aged care, and I am looking forward to our response to the Productivity Commission report. In my electorate, the West Moreton-Oxley Medicare Local has identified out-of-hours care for older Australians—who will benefit so much by the legislation here, particularly those living in aged-care facilities—as a major area of concern. I want to draw to the attention of the House the work of this Medicare local and particularly its CEO, Vicki Poxon, who has overseen the implementation of programs which will help people in residential aged-care facilities.

It is a very challenging time in aged care across the country. Today I met with representatives from the HSU and United Voice to talk about the challenges for low-paid workers in the aged-care sector—carers, nurses and ENs. We want to make sure locally that the residential aged-care sector and these homes and facilities are dealt with—funding them appropriately and properly and making sure patient care is done. I think the legislation here will help do that, improving the health and welfare of our community and improving health outcomes for the people in my electorate.

We have seen a lot of changes in my electorate in health care from this reforming government—everything from GP superclinics to funding for the Ipswich General Hospital, to telehealth, to e-health. Our area is one of the sites that has been allocated for that, and work is being undertaken at the moment in that regard. We have seen two new Medicare locals. We have seen also a tremendous amount of resources being put into primary care, with doctors' surgeries getting all of this.

Sadly, those opposite have whinged, moaned, carped, griped and opposed initiative after initiative. It does not surprise me today to hear the moaning, whining and whinging of the shadow minister as they reluctantly support this bill with some amendments. But yet again they cannot bring themselves to acknowledge the great initiatives of this government. This legislation stands fully inside the matrix, the fabric, the framework, of this particular government, which is very committed to making sure of good health outcomes across the country and in the communities that I represent in Blair.