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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 7876

Mr RANDALL (9:30 AM) —Today I wish to reiterate the grave concerns of my electorate and the wider community about the Rudd government’s attitude towards chemotherapy. As we know, Labor is cutting $105 million from chemotherapy medication. Cancer patients, current and future, will pay a hefty price for the government’s slash-and-burn approach which shows little understanding and empathy to those facing their darkest hours. The government says it will no longer foot the bill for leftover chemotherapy drugs that have not been used by the patient during treatment—what it calls ‘wastage’. How compassionate, from a government completely spun-out on health spin. I must agree with my colleague Senator Mathias Cormann that the ‘wastage’ label is an ‘inaccurate and baseless slur against healthcare professionals across Australia’.

What Mr Rudd and Ms Roxon fail to realise is that treatment of this kind is highly individualised. These drugs are tailored to each patient’s makeup, fluctuating weight, height, illness and dosages. From time to time a portion of a vial may be left unused, and the Therapeutic Goods Administration rules stipulate that unused portions must be discarded. That makes sense because these drugs are highly toxic and cannot be used to treat anyone else.

While Minister Roxon insists that ‘patient safety and access to chemotherapy medications will not be compromised by this measure’, there is little doubt that the changes will impact on operations and dispensing of lifesaving pharmaceuticals. It shows the government lacks an understanding of the additional stress that patients and their families suffer. It is undeserved. The question is: who will be left with the tab? It will be either the patient or the pharmacist. If the cost is left to the patient, many individuals will choose to go through the already overloaded public health system. Why should we ask a patient to purchase their own chemotherapy drugs? Should we now ask them to reschedule their treatment to a day that another cancer patient is receiving the same drug, to limit wastage? Should we make the patient suffer even more than they already have to? The government clearly has no idea, or simply does not care about the stress that it could potentially place on patients and their families, which may adversely affect their ability to recover.

Could the government consider approaching the major pharmaceutical companies to alter the sizes of the vials in order to minimise wastage? Possibly. But, despite coalition persistence, it is the unfortunate—but unsurprising—reality that the government only recently started to consult with patient groups and healthcare professionals and are now delaying the implementation of the changes until 1 September this year. Penalising patients and those involved in delivering these vital services is not the answer. The uncertainty and fear a person faces when diagnosed with cancer should not be exacerbated by a government who say they are committed to fixing the health system. How can the government put a dollar amount on a person’s life?