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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 4417

Senator BOYCE (6:09 PM) —I can do nothing but reiterate the comments of Senator Fierravanti-Wells and Senator Siewert about the bizarre and quixotic way the government has gone about attempting to bring this legislation in. After lunch today, this legislation was not on the list, yet Minister Roxon has been lecturing the coalition for months now about how we needed to get our act together to get this legislation through. In terms of getting one’s act together, I do not think I have seen any thing more bizarre than today’s activities. The government did not have this on the list; now the government has it on the list. As I understand it, the identifier system that this legislation will support is supposed to start operating on 1 July. It cannot do that without this legislation. We are now informed that the House of Representatives, where the government has the majority, is about to stop sitting, or has stopped sitting, and therefore this legislation cannot go back to them to be passed in time for it to start on 1 July. I have subsequently been told by Senator Siewert that this legislation is now not supposed to start until 1 October. Can we get this right? I continue to be bemused by Minister Roxon’s pathetic efforts to get legislation through and her attempts to blame us for it. I would like to read to the Senate a line from an article by Karen Dearne in the Australian on 1 June. She said:

One month out from the start of the Rudd government’s mandatory Healthcare Identifiers regime, Medicare is yet to sign a contract for service delivery.

They had not signed up the service deliverer a month out from when they said the only thing stopping this from happening was the opposition’s opposition. What complete and utter garbage! In any other organisation the current health minister would be out of a job in 10 seconds. She is the implementer from hell. Given the record of this government, she will probably get a promotion. Implementation is certainly not high on their agenda, and the way that they have gone about this is even more hopeless.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells —Nurse Roxon might become Dr Roxon!

Senator BOYCE —That is true. I certainly think that this effort will probably earn Minister Roxon a very, very big promotion, given that implementing successfully is a black mark against you in this government.

The coalition has long had a supportive attitude to e-health. Ten years ago we began the process of getting Australia an e-health program. The groups that will particularly benefit from this are people with chronic illness who need frequently to go to doctors and specialist for tests and who need frequently to tell their health professionals what has been done. In the end, this program is the first step towards a system which can be automatically brought up on their computer. We are currently in a situation where this cannot now proceed from 1 July. This is entirely in the hands of the government and Minister Roxon. Even if it were to proceed, there is absolutely no confidence anywhere that it is going to work. As I said, a month out, Medicare had not been signed up as the contract service provider.

During estimates, I asked questions on this area. In early June NEHTA, the National E-health Transition Authority, had finally managed to get itself sufficiently sorted out to invite medical software companies to tender and to get involved in the process of providing the software. On 6 June they had signed up three companies out of a potential 200. Had the trials happened? No. We kept being told that NEHTA had trialled the identifier systems with Medicare in a practice environment but there had been no real testing. Yet every medical software developer in the country has said, ‘You’ll need at least six months of live testing to have any confidence that what you are going to do will work.’

In the middle of this we already have concerns about Medicare wrongly sending out information, wrongly advising GPs of tests and getting the current Medicare numbers confused, let alone using a system that is meant to be more sophisticated than they currently have. I want to give you a sense of the size of this. I asked for an idea of what was going to be involved. The list goes like this: 100 million GP consultations, 100 million GP prescriptions, 200 million medications dispensed, 40 million GP pathology requests, 60 million pathology reports to GPs, 10 million GP imaging requests, 10 million imaging reports to GPs, eight million GP specialist referrals, and eight million specialist reports to GPs. That just begins to give you the scope of what this system is designed to deal with.

They cannot get themselves to stay long enough to get their own legislation through. They cannot get their medical software industry consulted in a timely fashion. Why would we believe that they could ever implement this system correctly? We agree with the Pharmacy Guild and the AMA that we should just get on with this. If there are problems with it, let’s fix them and just get on with passing this legislation and getting the system going. But how can we?