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Tuesday, 13 May 2014
Page: 2480

Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (20:12): I do not know how one continues on after that, except that I rise tonight to share —

Senator Polley: Well do not bother then.


Senator BOYCE: a good news story. The Assistant Health Minister, Senator Fiona Nash, mentioned in the Senate earlier today the unsustainable health system that we have inherited from Labor. However much Senator Polley likes to shout about it, that is the problem. Among the challenges we are facing is taxpayers funding 263 million free services a year. Public hospital funding has increased from $7.5 billion 10 years ago to its current level of $14 billion a year, and it will go on rising if nothing is done about it. We also face the health costs of an ageing population and the growing burden of chronic disease, obesity, dementia, cancer, diabetes and mental illness. As the Treasurer, Mr Hockey, demonstrated tonight, the coalition is meeting those challenges and delivering on them. We are working to create a strong and sustainable health system for the future good of all Australians.

However, tonight I would like to share a small success story that comes out of our health system. It is a story of success for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, a very vulnerable patient group. The Metro North Brisbane Medicare Local and Queensland National Disability Services have recently cooperated to develop online tools to assist both workers in the field of disability and GPs to recognise and learn about how to assist people with an intellectual disability or developmental delay to access the health system. These are titled Realising Good Health and Well-Being for People with Disability and can be delivered face to face, in a workshop environment or online. I was very pleased to be a speaker at the launch of these resources some months ago. I was also pleased that my Labor colleague Senator Claire Moore was able to attend that launch. At that function I made the point that promoting assistance for people with disabilities, particularly in the clinical medical sector, was often quite difficult. Speaking on these tools tonight is one thing that I am able to do to try to assist in the promotion of them; but first I would like to explain why something like this is necessary.

People with disabilities often have more complex health needs than people without disabilities, and they often face extra barriers in accessing the health services they need. For some people with a disability it can be difficult to communicate verbally with their doctor or with the person who is working with them. This makes it much harder for a person with a disability to explain a simple health issue, let alone a complex health issue, to doctors or carers in a way that is easily understood.

As we know, there can also be physical barriers to accessing healthcare facilities. The World Health Organization has developed quite a long list of these, and all of them would apply to health facilities—particularly primary care health facilities—in almost every place in Australia. There is uneven access to buildings, poor signage, narrow doorways, internal steps, inadequate bathroom facilities, inaccessible parking and, perhaps worst of all, examination tables that are not able to be raised and lowered for patients. I have heard stories from women in wheelchairs who were examined lying on the floor of a doctor's surgery because they could not access the examination table. Imagine if that were to happen on a regular basis to others in the community.

As I said, these online tools for both carers and GPs have been developed by Metro North Brisbane Medicare Local and National Disability Services Queensland. This is an example of an effective primary healthcare organisation helping a community. It shows what can be done when organisations such as Medicare Locals work well to support the needs of their communities. The programs that were developed were researched and they identified ways to improve access to primary healthcare services for people with a disability in the Brisbane North and Moreton Bay region.

Over a 12-month period NDS Queensland engaged with a broad range of stakeholders including people with a disability, their families and carers, support workers, providers of disability services, GPs and allied health professionals. Disability workers certainly wanted greater knowledge of the healthcare system and they needed information on how to identify, achieve and maintain optimum health for people with a disability. A series of workshops was delivered across the region in conjunction with the Queensland Centre for Intellectual and Developmental Disability. The centre is Queensland's leading organisation assisting people with a disability in mental, social and sexual health issues. The tool for support workers is titled Realising Good Health and Well-Being for People with Disabilityand it has 10 modules. The training package for GPs has 12 modules and it is now part of the Royal Australian College of GPs curriculum on developmental disabilities. There are points for undertaking the course.

The online tool for GPs is made up of 42 lectures, case histories, webinars, videos and a test system that gives participants a final score. There are a range of topics, including annual health checks, sexual health and consultation skills. As I said, these were developed by Metro North Brisbane Medicare Local and National Disability Services Queensland, but now that they are online they are available to all Australian GPs and Australian carers.

At the launch, the head of the Queensland Centre for Intellectual and Developmental Disability, Professor Nick Lennox, explained how this new initiative would be valuable. He said that people with a disability often have to rely on proxies to engage with systems and that those proxies play a vital role in assisting GPs to reach a diagnosis. Professor Lennox said:

Simple things can easily be missed if you don't provide me, as a medical practitioner, with a good story, even if you don't have an intellectual disability.

So the story, your discourse, your personal narrative, about your experience of life and your health is crucial to me arriving at a diagnosis and therefore making any reasonable judgement about what I should do.

So it is very important that both these tools are widely used. I think it is worth looking at the situation that it is trying to address, because certainly people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have the poorest health outcomes in Australia. As Professor Lennox commented in an article in the Medical Journal of Australia:

The research is clear that people with intellectual disability have been receiving inadequate health care. A seminal population study clearly demonstrated that they experience high levels of unmet health need, with 42% of health conditions persistently undiagnosed and half of the conditions that are diagnosed inadequately managed. Their life expectancy is much lower than the general population—about 20 years lower for people with severe disabilities.

As Professor Lennox points out, there are half a million Australians—a population at least as large as our Indigenous population—with intellectual disability, who continue to experience poor healthcare while being excluded from most generic research. Thank goodness for the future fund for medical research announced tonight. That will certainly go on to help.

We must do what we can to provide decent treatment for people with disabilities. I am pleased to say that the online tool for support workers has already had 1,243 page views. I would commend the tools to any medical person.