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Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Page: 6814

Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaParliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water) (19:19): I rise tonight to speak on the issue of National Stroke Week.

I am wearing a badge that I was given this morning when I attended breakfast with the Parliamentary Heart Foundation and Stroke Foundation Friendship Group. It was great to speak with representatives of the foundation and to get an update on the very important work that it does. I have wanted to speak about stroke for a while now, because a friend of mine, John Mitchell, is himself a stroke survivor. John has been a great help to me in preparing this speech, and before I begin I would just like to thank him for that.

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted. When brain cells do not get blood, and the oxygen and nutrients it contains, they die. So a stroke is always a medical emergency, because it can cause brain damage or, worse, death. Emergency treatment can save lives and reduce the likelihood of permanent brain damage. Anybody can suffer a stroke, so it is important that people know what the signs of stroke are and what to do if they, or someone they know, is showing those signs.

At the National Stroke Foundation event this morning I met Karen Bayly, who had a stroke at home in 2008 when she was 44 years of age. Fortunately, her partner recognised the signs of stroke and immediately called an ambulance. A quick transfer to hospital meant that her stroke was promptly confirmed and a life-saving clot-busting treatment was administered. Karen was told that she was lucky to be alive and that she was not likely to walk again or return to work. That would surprise you if you saw her this morning. Following extensive rehabilitation she is walking, caring for her two children, and in fact she has returned to work. Karen's story illustrates the importance of the National Stroke Foundation's information and the advertising campaign about stroke and how deadly it can be. I mentioned Mr John Mitchell before. He was a very talented and dedicated journalist, so it was very sad to see what effect the stroke that he suffered had on him, but it was pleasing that he was able to recover and he now lives closer to his children in Victoria.

One of the foundation's graphic television commercials, which some of you may have seen, depicts stroke as 'fire in the brain'. The damage caused by fire can be limited if quick action is taken, and the same is true of stroke. The sooner an ambulance is called, the greater the chance of saving the person's life and avoiding long-term disability. The foundation's latest TV commercial, officially launched this week, shows stroke as a deadly 'silent killer' that can strike us at any time and any age and without any warning.

Stroke is a killer. It is the second biggest cause of death in Australia and a leading cause of disability, with about 60,000 strokes suffered by Australians each year. The statistics are pretty horrifying. One in six people will have a stroke in their lifetime. A stroke will occur every 10 minutes. Stroke kills more women than breast cancer and more men than prostate cancer. About 20 per cent of strokes happen to people under the age of 55. Most stroke victims will require hospital care, and more than one-third of those admitted to hospital will move to rehabilitation services after acute care. The cost burden of strokes in Australia is estimated to be in excess of $2 billion each year.

The National Stroke Foundation leads the way in educating people about stroke and has branches in most states and territories. The foundation is a national not-for-profit organisation that works with stroke survivors, carers, health professionals, governments and the public to reduce the impact of strokes on all Australians. It is the voice of stroke in Australia and its mission is to stop stroke, save lives and end suffering. The foundation believes it will achieve its mission by educating the public about the risk factors, signs of stroke and healthy lifestyles, which of course it was doing at breakfast this morning; working with stakeholders to develop and implement stroke prevention and management policy; encouraging the development of comprehensive, coordinated services for stroke survivors and their families; and, finally, encouraging and facilitating stroke research.

The foundation's vision is of a world free from disability and suffering caused by stroke. Its campaigns focus on raising public awareness about the signs of stroke and what the foundation calls the FAST test. The test is an easy way to remember and recognise the signs of stroke. FAST stands for face, arms, speech and time, and is described in this way. Face : check the victim's face. Has his or her mouth drooped? Arms: can he or she lift both arms? Speech: is his or her speech slurred? Can the victim understand you? Finally, T is time. Time is critical. If you see any of these signs, call 000 immediately. The signs of stroke may occur alone or in combination and can last a few seconds or up to 24 hours and then disappear.

Rehabilitation methods for stroke victims vary but generally start with acute care in hospital, involving speech therapy, physiotherapy and occupational therapy. Stroke survivors live with the prospect of suffering additional strokes. Having had a stroke is a risk factor in further stroke, and this is a big fear for many survivors and their carers. Many stroke prevention methods are common-sense precautions such as eating healthily, keeping a healthy weight, not smoking, exercising regularly, keeping alcohol consumption to a minimum and keeping blood pressure down.

The foundation offers more extensive information on its very comprehensive website. The website provides an extremely valuable online forum called StrokeConnect for survivors and carers. StrokeConnect includes online 'rooms' for survivors, under-35s and carers; discussions about the latest therapies, treatments, and neuroplasticity; volunteering information; and the most up-to-date news on strokes. Issues discussed range from shared stroke survival stories to advice on relationships, holidays, stroke equipment and things to do to stay well, happy and healthy. In my home state of South Australia, I am aware of at least three stroke-related research programmes investigating issues including the impact of fitness programs on stroke survivors, the effect of shoulder injections on alleviating shoulder pain brought on by a stroke, and whether rehabilitation outcomes for stroke survivors can be improved by additional exercises for three hours a day or when rehabilitation is provided on weekends.

The National Stroke Foundation is helping stroke survivors fight back and is assisting all Australians to reduce their risk of stroke. Ten years ago, there were 34 stroke units in Australian hospitals; today there are 77. Ten years ago only 47 per cent of stroke patients arrived at hospital within three hours, but today that figure is 65 per cent. Ten years ago 49 per cent of Australians were able to identify one sign of stroke; in 2011 that had dramatically improved to 83 per cent. The National Stroke Foundation is doing an outstanding job, particularly through its excellent public education program. But we all must do what we can to help the foundation stop the 'silent killer' and extinguish the 'fire in the brain'.

Senate adjourned at 19:28