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Wednesday, 10 June 1970

Dr CASS (Maribyrnong) --In declining to recognise the need to provide a benefit for the prescription of glasses, the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) may be underrating the importance of this to patients. The Opposition sees this as an ancillary but not directly a medical service. After all', people who need glasses need them every bit as much as many people who have all sorts of minor operative and plastic procedures performed on them for which they are given the benefit of the Government's aid in the form of medical benefit. In other words, whilst the provision of glasses does not happen to be a traditional medical service in the way in which one might view a surgical procedure, the need for glasses often can be more vital for the welfare of the patient than many other medical services. However, that is probably whipping a dead horse.

I refer now to the issue of the second proposed amendment. This relates to the omission of the words 'in an operating theatre of an approved hospital' so that dentists providing various dental services also come within the ambit of the legislation allowing such patients to receive a medical benefit. In refusing to accept this amendment the Government is hinting to dentists that they might more often treat their patients in operating theatres at hospitals rather than in their dental surgeries. Treatment in the dental surgery would be perfectly adequate, assuming that general anaesthesia is not necessary. I certainly subscribe to the view that if a patient requires a general anaesthetic it ought to be provided in an operating theatre. It should not be done by the dentist in the surgery. However there are many procedures which constitute surgical procedures which can be done quite adequately under local anaesthetic in a dentist's consulting room and which also can be done in an operating theatre. If the dentists are wide awake I am quite sure that is what they will do. So I think the Government is defeating itself by not recognising this. After all, the pro cedures can still be defined, but the Government will1 not be able to argue about whether they should best be done in an operating theatre or a dentist's surgery. If the dentist claims that an abscess is of such a dimension that he feels it would be better done in an operating theatre - in addition the patient gets a rebate - the Government will not be able to argue against that. I would like to suggest that there are other procedures also which come into the same category. I do not believe the Government would be laying itself open to huge expense by allowing a dentist to perform these procedures in his own surgery. 1 do not think there is any need to whip this subject very much further. In conclusion, I would like to quote something the Minister for Health said earlier today. He said:

The objectives of the amendments are beyond question and my one regret is that each is being brought forward in isolation and not as pan of a complete review of the legislative provisions contained in the Act with which the Government will be persevering.

Of course, that is quite legitimate. I am not really abusing the Minister or the Government at this stage, but I regret that our parliamentary procedures are quite inadequate for this sort of legislation. It is a justification of some of the speeches made recently on the need for committees of the Parliament to look into things like this. I feel sure that if the Government had in fact conceded the justice of many of the amendments, which quite frankly do not do the sort of things I would like them to do because they are bolstering up a basic scheme with which I disagree, it would have made the situation much better than it is at the moment. But the machinery of Parliament is such that it is not possible, regretfully, for the Government to consider these things properly. I concede that the amendments cannot be accepted despite the Government's acknowledging that they ate worthwhile. If a lesson may be drawn from this, I hope that more of us will be encouraged to consider the need for more standing or select committees to consider Bills of a highly technical nature, such as this one. With a small committee able to draw on expert witnesses and even able to utilise some of the experts within the House, better legislation would be available without necessarily detracting from the Government's efforts.

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