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Tuesday, 16 August 2011
Page: 8209


Mr GEORGANAS (Hindmarsh) (19:14): I rise in support of the National Health Reform Amendment (National Health Performance Authority) Bill 2011. I do so because we know that this bill is about the availability of information to the public, and we know that the availability of information is paramount. I think that within a democratic society the provision of information and the availability of information is absolutely critical. I am sure that most of us in this House would recognise this as an obvious fact.

The bill before us today contributes to the information that will be made publicly available to the Australian public on matters concerning our health system and our hospitals. Specifically, this bill will create a performance authority which will be charged with monitoring and reporting on the performance of our local hospital networks, public and private hospitals, Medicare Locals and other healthcare service providers that service the people of Australia.

While informed public knowledge is important within a democracy, information is also rather important when we evaluate things. It is really important to the evaluation of services that are provided and, of course, the funding that goes into those services. And so for the very first time in our nation's history we will have a health system that is expected to meet new national standards of service provision. It will be expected to meet new targets in fields of practice such as elective surgery and emergency department waiting and turnaround times.

This is a great thing; this is something that this Labor government is delivering to the Australian public. It is delivering something to the Australian public that has always been far too hot a political potato for governments to deliver in the past. Setting benchmarks and publicly exposing where the health system is can only be a good thing. Looking and analysing whether we are meeting the standards and whether we are having successes or failures in meeting those benchmarks is very important.

As I said, this is a very open and transparent way of measuring our health system, our successes and performance. It is an extremely important and open process, which will benefit all involved. I, for one, am proud of this government's work; especially what this government is doing in this exact area. It is being more transparent and more open for all to see.

I am coming at this new emerging reality from the perspective of the people who rely on these health services: the people around Australia. In decades past we used to hear of elderly residents who were waiting for years and years, perhaps for a hip replacement; hobbling around home, minimising their trips to the shops whence groceries could not be carried away without great pain. People had to live with their pain for far too long. In a First World country such as Australia, with a first-rate health system like ours, this really stood out as a failure by all governments in the past to invest in people's good health, mobility and independence. By monitoring the system and knowing our performance rates we can see where relevant needs are.

We have probably all experienced the frustration of having to wait eight hours in an emergency department to see a doctor, especially for something that is not particularly critical. How many days of people's lives have been wasted waiting around emergency departments? How many labour hours are lost due to the emergency departments not being capable of seeing and treating people in a timely manner?

This government is setting service delivery targets that we can already see in hospital statistics through the MyHospitals website, which started in December last year. For example, the MyHospitals website gives information on the number of days people have had to wait for a given procedure or other service at any given hospital and the national average for that particular procedure. It gives those waiting times for the previous two financial years, so you can go back two financial years and see what the waiting times were in particular hospitals for particular procedures.

For example, in Adelaide's western suburbs we have the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. When you log onto the MyHospitals website you can easily find the table which shows the Queen Elizabeth Hospital waiting time for a full knee replacement for the last two years. In 2009 the Queen Elizabeth Hospital replaced knees after patients waited for 91 days as compared to a national average wait of 147 days. In 2009-10 QEH patients had to wait 140 days as compared to 180 days on average around Australia.

What is wrong with members of the public being able to access that information, and being able to see exactly how long they will have to wait for a particular procedure? Those figures I just gave you compare with the Royal Adelaide Hospital, where for the same service one would have to have waited 211 days and 191 days respectively. It is all very interesting and is of particular interest, as I said, to anyone contemplating full knee replacement surgery. The purpose of all this data accumulation, management and communication is, of course, to drive improvements in service delivery. This is part of the overall reform of our health and hospital system that this government has courageously undertaken, driving improved services that will be more cost effective and sustainable in the future.

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing, which I have the honour of chairing, met to discuss this bill, and I tabled the committee's report during the last few weeks of the last parliamentary session. The committee recommended that the House of Representatives pass the National Health Reform Amendment (National Health Performance Authority) Bill 2011 with a further amendment which I believe will be moved later on in this House, that the performance authority presents a compilation of its performance monitoring activities to the parliament annually in addition to its publication on the authority's website. These are very, very important initiatives by the government. Under this policy the performance authority will work to open up the performance of the health and hospital system to new levels of national transparency and accountability. It will allow for the identification of high-performing parts of the health system so those successes can be transferred to other areas. It will identify areas of the health system that require improvement so that action can be taken and it will improve the healthcare choices of Australians making key decisions about their own healthcare needs—all good things.

Opening up the performance can only be good. Allowing the identification of high-performing parts of the health system so you can mirror them in other areas can only be a good thing. Identifying areas of the health system that require improvement so we can improve things is also a good thing.

This is a very, very good bill that should be supported by all—unfortunately I see that it will not be. It will better meet the health requirements of Australians in the future. This is one of the first steps in the government's major national health reform, which is critical to delivering to Australians a health system that will deliver the services that they deserve.