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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 3672


Senator CAROL BROWN (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (17:12): I also rise to make a brief contribution to debate on the legislation before us, the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Bill 2011 and the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2011. Currently we have the health records of patients scattered across a range of locations and attached to different clinics and hospitals, so we need to have a system that allows for a patient's whole health record to be easily accessible, no matter what medical facility they may present at. It is inefficient and potentially dangerous to a patient's health if they have to retell their medical history each time they visit a different healthcare provider. So that is why the Gillard Labor government has announced a $466 million investment over two years for the establishment of an electronic health records system. This funding is to establish the personally controlled electronic health records system national infrastructure. This will prove to be a vital piece of health technology as we continue to find more efficient and effective ways to treat patients.

The outdated approached of paper records or records that do not travel with a patient when they present at a new health facility can cause unnecessary delays and medical errors. In fact, medication errors cause about 190,000 hospital admissions each year, with eight per cent of those being because of inadequate consumer information. So that is why from 1 July 2012 we will begin to roll out the personally controlled electronic health records system. This is the next step in using e-health to enhance our healthcare system. It will create an individual electronic patient record that has the capability to be shared securely over the internet and it will be available to help treat a patient when and where it is needed. From 1 July 2012 individuals will have the option to register for a personally controlled electronic health record. The first stage of the e-health rollout will deliver the core functionality required to establish a system which can grow over time. Individuals can choose not to have a personally controlled the record and, if they choose to participate, they will be able to set their own access controls or enable default access settings. Once the individual has selected the permission level, key pieces of their health information may be viewed at participating healthcare providers across different locations and healthcare settings. Already, the federal government is making a significant investment in the nation's health system, and the personally controlled electronic health records are the next cog in this investment.

As part of our investment in health care, the federal government has signed with states and territories in a historic health reform agreement which will deliver a better deal for patients. This historic national health agreement ensures we can deliver the funding our public hospitals need, with unprecedented levels of transparency and accountability, less waste and significantly less waiting for patients. This new deal provides a much-needed funding boost to hospitals and ensures, through the provision of tough national standards, that the money goes straight to hospitals and, in turn, straight to patients. Together, the Commonwealth, the states and the territories will share in funding growth in an equal partnership. There will be a single national funding pool, activity based funding and national standards, including guarantees on emergency waiting times and elective surgery waiting lists, and it will improve front-line care through the afterhours GP helpline, Medicare Locals and GP superclinics. In effect, this funding deal ensures that our hospitals are able to invest in the infrastructure they need to provide the very best health care for all Australians.

As a Senator for Tasmania, I am particularly concerned about the Tasmanian health system and ensuring that the healthcare needs of Tasmanians are looked after. I am pleased to say that Tasmanians will benefit from the introduction of personally controlled e-health records. In fact, the whole Tasmanian health system is already benefitting from significant investment from the federal Labor government. The Tasmanian health system received a significant boost only last week when the Minister for Health, Tanya Plibersek, announced a $325 million package over four years for an emergency rescue of the Tasmanian health system. We know that the Tasmanian health system is facing significant pressures and has some unique challenges. For instance, we know that Tasmania has an older population and that the proportion of our older people is growing more quickly than in any other state or territory. Tasmania has a small and geographically dispersed population which suffers from a higher prevalence of chronic disease and has higher health risk factors. That is why I was pleased to see the Minister for Health come to Tasmania, after strong lobbying from the Tasmanian parliamentary Labor team, to conduct consultations with front-line health professionals, unions, Tasmanian Medicare Locals, Tasmanian Health Organisations, members of parliament and the Tasmanian state government.

The package announced by the Minister for Health, Tanya Plibersek, will include $31 million for an elective surgery blitz that will provide about 2,600 additional surgeries in areas where large numbers of patients are overdue for surgery, including cataract surgery, knee replacements, hip replacements, hernias and gall bladder surgery, and $22 million to establish walk-in clinics in Hobart and Launceston that will provide care for minor ailments and injuries, for extended hours and at no charge to patients. These centres will link to local general practices and Tasmanian Medicare Locals, to ensure continuity of care for patients. We will also deliver $48 million to better support care in the community to prevent and manage chronic disease through the Tasmanian Medicare Locals. GPs will still continue to have central responsibility for the clinical care of their patients, with Tasmanian Medicare Locals supporting allied and preventative health services and the coordination of care. There is $74 million to provide better care for patients when they are discharged from hospital and better palliative care in the community. There is $53 million to train more medical specialists and provide more scholarships for nurses and allied health professionals, which will deliver up to 34 additional specialist training places, up to 17 new clinical supervisor positions and up to 11 new training coordinators as well as funding for more scholarships for nursing and allied health professionals. There is $15 million to help address gaps in mental health services; $42 million to support innovation in clinical services which will enable care to be delivered more effectively and efficiently; and $36 million to roll personally controlled electronic health records into Tasmanian hospitals and enable allied health, pathology and diagnostic imaging services to connect to e-health.

This investment from the federal Labor government will ensure that the Tasmanian health system is put back on track and will allow us to deliver the very best health care to Tasmanian patients. We need to make structural changes that ensure that the Tasmanian health system is delivered as efficiently as possible to secure the long-term future of the Tasmanian health system. A key component of this is the rollout of the personally controlled electronic health records in Tasmania, which will support public hospitals, allied health, pathology and diagnostic imaging. As part of Minister Plibersek's consultations in Tasmania, it was repeatedly highlighted that e-health would help reduce errors and duplication and help improve the efficiency of care. The issue of e-health was raised at each roundtable that was held by Minister Plibersek in Launceston, Hobart and Burnie. Whilst this investment in Tasmanian health will have significant benefits, the e-health records rollout is very exciting. It stands to deliver significant assistance to help Tasmanian health professionals provide the very best care.

The rest of Australia also stands to benefit considerably from the rollout of the personally controlled electronic health records. E-health represents an important part of the future of health care in Australia for both consumers and healthcare providers. It will enhance the way health care is delivered and result in more efficient and effective health care. The federal Labor government has e-health as an integral part of its health reform agenda, an agenda that aims to continuously improve Australia's healthcare system to ensure that it is accountable, affordable and sustainable, whilst providing the very best of care. Personally controlled electronic health records represent the next exciting stage of our health reform agenda, and I commend the bills to the chamber.