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Wednesday, 23 October 2002
Page: 5714


Senator EGGLESTON (2:02 PM) —I have a question for the Minister for Health and Ageing. Will the minister update the Senate on her recent visit to many of the public hospitals around Australia which are treating the victims of the terrorist attack in Bali?


Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank Senator Eggleston for his question. I also thank the management and staff of the hospitals. To have a ministerial visit, especially when they are under stress, adds yet another pressure. I appreciate the time and effort they took in organising my visits. The purpose of my visits was not just to thank the hospital staff on behalf of the government; I took the liberty of thanking them on behalf of all members of the federal parliament. The medical staff, the management of the hospitals, ancillary staff such as the catering, security and cleaning staff—all of them—pulled out all stops in the hospitals that I visited. I want to express my gratitude to all of them, because without them all pulling together it would not have worked.

On Friday I visited the Alfred hospital in Melbourne. On Monday I visited Royal Darwin, Royal Perth and Sir Charles Gairdner hospitals, and I met staff from Princess Margaret and Fremantle hospitals. Yesterday I visited the Royal Adelaide Hospital and I am hoping to visit Concord hospital on Monday. At each hospital it was impossible not to experience the intense mixture of emotions that was etched on the faces of the medical staff and all the other staff: the joy of seeing some of their patients improving and the grief and devastation, despite herculean attempts not only on the part of the staff but also on the part of the families and patients, that some of them failed to survive.

At each hospital there are stories of incredible charity. At one hospital, a cleaning staff member found that an overseas visitor had arrived without toiletries, so they took money out of their own pocket to buy toiletries for the relative. In other hospitals, staff had come in from holidays. In Royal Perth, nurses who had left the hospital 10 years ago reappeared and joined the staff. There were just amazing stories. In the four minutes available, I do not have time to do justice to every story that I heard. In Darwin hospital they told me that they had not treated as many patients at one time since World War II. Again, the memories of their experiences—the staff were in the first line—were etched on their faces.

On Friday at the Alfred the staff spoke in glowing terms about the Australian defence forces and the tremendous work that Darwin hospital had done under enormous pressure to triage patients. They had expected them to come into the hospitals in the south in much worse condition and they waxed lyrical about the incredible skills and the dedication of the ADF personnel and Darwin hospital staff. Great credit should go to the staff. They had just finished emergency training and finished the paperwork on Friday. Little did they know that they would have to put it into action so soon. There were spontaneous comments about that. As I have said, there were stories of doctors who came in off duty. For example, in the Adelaide hospital they had a meeting on Sunday afternoon—doctors came in from leave—and 15 doctors and nurses were in Darwin by Sunday night. That is extraordinary. They were able to get the minister to enable them to assist in Darwin. I am sure that I will hear similar stories when I visit Concord.

The courage of the victims and their gratitude and that of their relatives are a tribute to all hospitals and staff involved. Once again I would like to put on the record the parliament's appreciation of all those involved in the care and treatment of the Bali victims.