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Thursday, 18 October 1956

Mr PEARCE (Capricornia) . - X am sure that the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) must be very satisfied with the reception that his bill has received during the course of the debate to-day. Except for one or two questions from the Opposition, honorable members have unanimously approved the plan outlined by the Minister and expressed their eagerness that this scheme should work to the advantage of the sick people. This is not a scheme that was entered into lightly. A good deal of work, examination and research was devoted to the proposition before it appeared on the business paper.

I want to commend the Department of Health for the very careful analysis that it made of the Australia-wide position in relation to the sick and suffering and the degreeto which their distress could be relieved by this bill. We should pay a tribute to the Director-General of Health, to the officers, who were assigned to the task and in particular to Miss Peterson, who travelled around Australia and gave us the benefit of her extensive knowledge in the field of nursing in general.

This bill will be of great benefit to the people of Queensland. In years past we in that State had a bush nursing service, but the previous Premier became obsessed with the idea of centralization of hospitals. As a result, we have centralized governmentcontrolled hospitals in the major cities throughout the State. The old system, under which boards looked after hospitals. and private hospitals operated, has slowly been subjected to a squeeze. Many of them have faded out and as they faded out great centralized hospitals came into being. Unfortunately, too, the bush nursing services drifted away, mainly because of the neglect and disapproval of the State government. Not so many years ago some very good work was done by bush nurses in my own area. It was sad that the bush nursing associations had to close through lack of government support. They were finally centred in the metropolitan area of Brisbane. The remnants of the bush nursing service are still operating, but the organization is centred in the metropolitan area of Brisbane and does not extend into the country.

Mr Thompson - Are there any in the country?

Mr PEARCE - No, there is not a bush nursing service in the whole of the country.

Mr Thompson - Or any other similar body?

Mr PEARCE - There is no other similar body. In fact, through the centralized hospital plan of the Government, the situation is such that no other hospital can be found within 70 miles of a district hospital. The City of Brisbane has a mammoth hospital on the north side of the river. It is overcrowded and altogether too large. A new auxiliary hospital has been opened on the southern side of the river. But the area from Brisbane to the border with New South Wales does not contain another hospital. If somebody living on the Gold Coast - a glorious holiday resort - took ill, no hospital would be available to him, except a small private one. People needing hospital attention have to be transported 60 or 70 miles to Brisbane. . In my area, Rockhampton has a general hospital, but there is no other hospital for 146 miles west, 246 miles north or 93 miles south of that city. People are compelled to leave their home environment to go to the centralized hospitals.

I could not attempt to measure the advantage of this scheme to the people of Queensland, but I feel it will be of great benefit to them. The only gauge that we can use is the gauge of experience. I recall, that two and a half years ago an energeticMethodist minister at the West End Methodist Church in Brisbane decided to establish a nursing service. The Reverend Arthur Preston, who is rather a dynamic character, as well as conducting his own circuit affairs, set about to establish the Blue Nursing Association in Brisbane. That service has developed rapidly. He found that the need was there, he gained the necessary financial support, and the scheme has expanded so that now a very worth-while organization is operating, and is earning a great deal of praise from the people of Brisbane. I spoke to the Reverend Mr. Preston quite recently about this service. He is grateful to the Queensland Government for the subsidy that it grants, but he made it quite clear that the only reason why the service has not expanded still further is that insufficient funds are available. He said that there wasa need for a larger service. He did not believe that there would be any difficulty in obtaining nurses to undertake this work of travelling around and succouring the sick. The only problem was the lack of sufficient money.

If this service could be built up in Brisbane in two and a half years to the organization that is operating at present while the district nursing service operates in the same city, it augurs well for the establishment of a similar service in other places. The Blue Nursing Service Association in Brisbane, under the direction of this Methodist minister, has extended its activities so that it now controls and operates a nursing service in the nearby City of Ipswich. I am told that the Reverend Mr. Preston receives inquiries from Methodist centres in all parts ofthe State, asking for particulars of his scheme so that a similar service may be established' in other provincial cities and country centres. I am sure that we will hear more of this service in Queensland, and that it will continue to perform the good work that it has done in the metropolitan area of Brisbane.

In addition to that service we have what I presume to call the remnants of the old bush nursing service, which operates in Brisbane. This measure will provide an. injection of hope and cheer for that service.

Mr Duthie - What has replaced that service?

Mr PEARCE - Nothing has replacedit in the country areas. If a person is ill. he travels by train or motor car or ambulance to the nearest hospital, which, in many cases, even in rather thickly populated areas, is up to 200 miles away.

I was very pleased to learn that His Grace, Archbishop Duhig, the Catholic archbishop of Brisbane, has brought to that city some Catholic sisters who intend to set up a service in the Brisbane area similar to the two that are already operating. For those people also this bill will provide an injection of hope and encouragement. I listened to the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. O'Connor) asking, earlier in the debate, " How do these people get on? " 1 think it has been made clear that although these Catholic nursing sisters give their time, love and labour for almost nothing, as they expand their staff the payment that will be made to them will be approximately the award wage for a nursing sister.

These services that are being established and expanded demonstrate the great need that exists for them in the Brisbane area, and the fact that they must extend their activities to the country areas. There is evidence that the nursing sisters perform work that is not merely straight-out medical work but is also of great psychological benefit to the people whom they treat. The education that they give in general health matters is also of great benefit. As one who has been privileged to see some of the sisters at work, I can testify to the happiness and contentment that comes into a home that is visited regularly by one of the nursing sisters. In many cases the persons whom they visit are old. As the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) has said, they are frequently people who are getting on in years and find it a little difficult to look after each other. Perhaps the husband or the wife becomes sick, but has no wish to leave the home and go into a hospital, because the task of keeping the home going would be too much for the one who remained. A nursing sister who can call regularly on such a couple will ease the burden, and make it possible for those people to live as we feel they should live, in their own home, under their own roof, and as they wish to live, without being subject to the dictates of any other person.

One honorable member during this debate spoke of his visit to the Eventide home at Sandgate. There is an Eventide home in my electorate. At that home there are wards for people who become chronically ill as they approach old age. I pay tribute to the Queensland Government for the way in which it conducts these Eventide homes. The one in Rockhampton is a place okindness and charity in the truest sense of those words. The male and female hospital wards are located in the centre of the establishment, and around them are small cottages in which two people may live. A cottage may be occupied by a married couple who go there to spend their declining days. They may be occupied by two men or two women who can live together in harmony. A visiting doctor gives his service in an almost honorary capacity. The payment that he receives is very small. He visits the institution daily and takes care of the medical needs of the inmates, whether they are in the wards or the cottages. It is a happy community.

Despite the fact that it is quite a large organization, and that Rockhampton is a relatively small city of about 44,000 souls, there is a long list of people waiting to enter this institution. Persons apply to enter this home for a variety of reasons. The main one is that they need care and attention. 1 am quite sure that the waiting list would be substantially reduced if a district nursing service operated in the town. If a kind nurse could call at their homes regularly, even if only once a week, to attend to their medical requirements, I am sure that many of the applicants for admission to the Eventide home would withdraw their applications. The visiting sisters would be able to give them advice about health matters, and the old couples could continue to live together in the way that they have lived for perhaps 30 or 40 years.

If we can reduce the waiting period for admission to the Eventide home, so that persons who still wish, for a variety of reasons, to enter the home may quickly do so, we will bring happiness to a large number of people. There is nothing more dreadful than the anxiety that I have seen in old people who have applied for entry to an old folks' home only because they cannot continue to look after themselves outside. They wait until the last moment before making application, because they want to hang on to their own home environment. Having made application, in the desperation of their need, they are told that it may be six or twelve months before they can gain admittance to the Eventide home or the benevolent home or some other institution. During that waiting period they undergo a terrific strain, and they wonder whether they will ever be taken into the home. In many cases I have made application on behalf of these people to the appropriate State Minister, asking him to try to give them early admittance to a home. 1 may receive a letter from the Minister to say that a particular person will be admitted to a home next week, only to find that the old lady or gentleman has passed away in the meantime. It is the long wai. ing period that we must try to eliminate. If we establish a home nursing service to cater for these people, so that they may remain in their own homes, we will do a great deal of good.

I welcome this measure, because it will convey many psychological as well as medical benefits to the people to whom I have referred, lt will enable us to extend the work of the home nursing sisters, and bring happiness to the chronically ill and others who desire to remain in their own homes, so that they may, in the company of their own loved ones, enjoy the benefits of medical care.

I think you, Mr. Speaker, in a private capacity, have made some caustic remarks about the nursing service in Queensland. As I have explained, it is at present limited to the capital city, and to the town of Ipswich, which is some 20-odd miles away.


Mr PEARCE - I appreciate the Minister's unbiased opinion. There are many provincial towns and important country centres apart from Ipswich in Queensland, which is a very big State indeed. Doubtless the Methodist Church, which has gained considerable knowledge and experience in the conduct of the Blue Nursing Service in Brisbane, will extend this scheme to other centres. I believe that the Roman Catholic Church, which has been set an example by the Archbishop in Brisbane, will also extend its service to provincial towns. But there still remains a great need, in a vast countryside, for public-spirited citizens to support the principle of this bill and establish new organizations for home nursing. There are vast country areas in Queensland in which this scheme could be of great benefit. There are many public-spirited citizens who will take up the cry and encourage the establishment anywhere in Australia of voluntary organizations that will qualify for a subsidy of 50 per cent, of the wages of the nurses they employ from the time of their inauguration. Of course, this subsidy will depend upon the payment of a similar subsidy by the State governments. I appeal to those who belong to the same political Labour party as the Queensland Premier and to those who belong to other Labour factions to request the Queensland Government to give full support to the principle of this measure, because I have at the back of my mind a niggling fear that the Queensland Government may not wholeheartedly co-operate in the extension of home-nursing services. This fear is not born of airy thoughts. It is based on experience.

Mr Chambers - The honorable member is spoiling his speech now.

Mr PEARCE - I am stating the facts. These things must be said, because if we examine the past we find that the Bush Nursing Service was severely curtailed by the centralization policy of the Labour Government in Queensland. I hope that the present Queensland Government, under the leadership of Mr. Gair, who, it must be admitted, adopts a policy different from that adopted by Mr. Hanlon when he was Premier - Mr. Gair is more expansive - will look kindly upon this scheme and assist new organizations to establish themselves. If the scheme is to work successfully in Queensland new organizations must be established. The State is too large for home-nursing organizations in every part of it to be controlled by a parent body in Brisbane. Since the payment of the Commonwealth subsidy will be conditional upon the payment of a similar subsidy by the State, the success of the scheme depends upon the goodwill of the Queensland Government, which will have to give it its blessing and extend the subsidy paid to existing organizations on a pro rata basis to new organizations established in country areas.

We need have no fear that there will be a shortage of nurses for this work, as was stated earlier. Although many areas of Queensland are sparsely populated, there are in almost every country centre former nurses who married and who, now that their children have grown up, are prepared to devote themselves again to nursing. There are also nurses who, tired of the officialdom and routine of general hospital work, favour the heart-warming and humane work of home nursing, and widows with children who are able and willing to work five or six hours a day in a home-nursing scheme if they are guaranteed regular work. I cannot think of any district in Queensland, or indeed elsewhere in Australia, where the scheme would be a failure owing to a shortage of nurses, because trained women are available everywhere. They would be favorably disposed to a scheme such as this, and I am sure that when the call goes out women who have had nursing experience will respond, because that experience has given them a love of humanity and a desire to serve it. I am sure that this measure will in every way promote the advancement of nursing services throughout Australia for the benefit of men and women who, though growing old, wish to remain in their home circle, and who need nursing attention and the love; succour and support of those who are stronger and more fortunate.

I commend the bill to the House, and I hope that under the guidance of the Minister for Health and his experienced officers we shall see the scheme work successfully for the great benefit of the people of Australia, as we all desire.

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