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Wednesday, 26 March 2003
Page: 13626

Ms GAMBARO (12:03 PM) —I would like to add to the words of the previous speakers, the member for Boothby and the member for Mitchell, on the National Blood Authority Bill 2002. They spoke about some moving examples of the problems that have existed over the last several years, whereby people in genuine need of blood treatments have been toing and froing between the Commonwealth and the states. Clearly, their lives could have been enhanced or made much more superior if all of this disputation had not occurred in the first place. They are entitled to a decent way of life, as we all are. This has gone on for far too long.

Looking back at the history of all of this, I hope that, if it does one thing, it improves the situation that the member for Mitchell's constituent has found himself in. I am sure that many other people in this country over the last more than several years have been in similar situations. I would like to add my support today in speaking about the recommendation of the review of the Australian blood bank and plasma product sector that a National Blood Authority be established to oversee the safety and quality of these blood products and services.

There was a review done, and the review identified a need for reform in this particular sector. As the member for Mitchell and others said earlier, the process before this was very fragmented. There was no mechanism for evidence based assessment of new products, technology and services; people who needed products went through endless anguish. The call for a national blood authority mirrors that of countries worldwide, including Canada. In 1997, the English edition of Nature published an article on the Canadian inquiry into the infection of thousands of Canadians with HIV and hepatitis C. The inquiry there advocated a national blood authority with the focus particularly on safety as a very high-priority area. This particular bill, the National Blood Authority Bill 2002, seeks to establish the National Blood Authority, which will be responsible for managing and coordinating Australia's blood supply. Its objective is to ensure that supply is sufficient and to focus on both the safety and the quality of its blood products and services.

As I said earlier, it will ensure that quality, effectiveness and efficiency are up to scratch. It will be the first time in Australian history that we will have a national agency which will be responsible for the management and supply of blood and blood products. The current situation with states and territories is that they enter a bilateral agreement with the Australian Red Cross Blood Service for both operating and capital costs. Prices paid for products and services across the states and territories differ, but they have never really reflected the actual production cost. Jurisdictions use different quantities of products, which are not necessarily related to the clinical need. The bill will ensure that there is greater consistency in the quality of products and services associated with the blood supply. Because the states and territories pay an annual grant to the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, rather than paying for goods consumed, there are very few price signals in the jurisdiction which relate to product use, which really does not make much sense to me. I am sure that this will be addressed in this bill.

Capital grants are made to the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. They are made on a very ad hoc basis. In the past, the Commonwealth has had very little leverage, while meeting 50 per cent of the cost. As I have said, there are no price signals at all relating to CSL products. At the moment, 100 per cent of them are Commonwealth funded. They are used also by states and territories. That lack of price signals and the volume of goods consumed could lead to stockpiling and potential waste.

There is no formal national approach to the evidence based assessment of innovations in products and services. We have heard of some of those innovations here. There has never been a mechanism to deal with them. I have had many representations—as has the member for Boothby, probably—from haemophilia sufferers. What they have had to go through is just a nightmare. It is a constant fight with the state and the Commonwealth. These people deserve some decency in their treatment and some standards and consistency.

In November 2002, federal, state and territory health ministers attended the Australian Health Ministers Conference. They agreed that they should establish the National Blood Authority. They asked for new arrangements for more formal processes in assessing new blood products. All in all, I see this as a benefit. I think that it will be a much more cost-effective system. It will focus on quality issues and safety. A key feature is the national blood agreement, which includes the establishment of a jurisdictional blood committee, a subcommittee of the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council. That will support the Australian Health Ministers Conference as a policy maker. Also, there is provision for the NBA to manage the national blood supply on behalf of the Commonwealth, states and territories. There are also more improved mechanisms to promote safety and the quality of the Australian blood supply. The national blood agreement will also enable the National Blood Authority to participate in the process for national blood supply change proposals.

The Commonwealth and the states and territories will share the funding of the blood sector on a cost share basis. As previous speakers have mentioned, the new arrangement will be that the Commonwealth share will be 63 per cent, while each state and territory share will be 37 per cent. This maintains the relative cost share that has obtained over the last 10 years.

The bill provides some mechanisms which will improve the safety and the quality of the Australian blood supply. Both the Australian Red Cross Blood Service and the Australian Red Cross Society have been engaged in and are supportive of all of the new national blood sector arrangements. Both these national institutions are central to providing successful implementation of the new arrangements. The NBA will be established as a Commonwealth agency to undertake a range of funding issues on behalf of all jurisdictions, including annual blood supply and production planning for blood products and services. It will also enter into the management of contracts for the collection and distribution of blood products and services. It will gather information regarding demand, supply and cost of products and services and it will also look at facilitating and funding research and policy development, which is very important in this area.

The bill will establish the NBA board. Its role will be to provide advice to the NBA through the general manager about the performance of the NBA's function. It will consist of a chair, a Commonwealth member, two state/territory members, a community representative—which is highly important—a public health expert with expertise in blood issues and a business financial member. The bill also establishes as a statutory office the general manager of the National Blood Authority. It appoints conditions for the board members and the general manager of the NBA. In effect, it will enable the NBA to gather information other than personal information in relation to the performance of the NBA's function.

There will be minimal financial impact from the introduction of the National Blood Authority Bill. The Commonwealth's share of funding for the new arrangements will be met from existing forward estimates. One of the clauses in this bill, clause 9, will ensure that, in emergency situations, the needs of those who are outside those normal planning and operational processes of national blood supply can be met. That is very important. This measure demonstrates the rationale for a national blood authority and the flexibility that will ensue as a consequence of the bill.

In this day and age, information is an absolutely important commodity; the bill provides for the confidentiality of that information. Clause 11 of the bill provides that staff and board members of the NBA and any persons performing services, such as contractors or consultants, are bound to maintain confidentiality in regard to any information or documents that are accessible as a result of their employment.

The National Blood Authority Bill 2002, by establishing a national blood authority, will enable coordinated demand and supply planning and improve evidence based processes for a whole lot of new products and services in the blood sector. I ask the chamber to support this bill, and I support it wholeheartedly.