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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2127

Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (20:42): I rise to speak on the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Bill 2011 and a related bill. The economic growth, productivity and prosperity of our country is underpinned by the health of the people. It is absolutely critical that we get right the social and physical infrastructure of our public health and hospital system, our primary health care and also our e-health. The coalition has had every position possible in this regard. In fact, it is incredible that they are standing here today, spokesperson after spokesperson, criticising us on this area.

Before the 2010 election the AMA sought a commitment from the coalition on e-health. We know that because the then President of the AMA, Dr Andrew Pesce, said in a statement:

We also note that there is no commitment from the Coalition yet on e-health.

This is a major concern because, without e-health, we cannot make the best use of existing health care services and avoid errors, duplication and waste.

I can tell you, the AMA is not an affiliated union to the Australian Labor Party. The coalition also took a policy to the last election that criticised us. They intended to scrap the proposed $466.7 million investment in e-health in our budget. They vowed to scale it back. The strange thing about that was that the shadow minister for health, the Hon. Peter Dutton, said that the coalition was absolutely committed to e-health. He said that before the last election and I have seen performances on Q&A where he said similar things about health reform. But there is no money on the table and when it comes to the crunch, it is all about cuts. He said:

We are committed to e-health into the future. We do strongly support a roll-out of e-health and the funding is there until 2012.

Where is their commitment now?

Another body not necessarily affiliated to the Australian Labor Party, the Business Council of Australia, wrote to Peter Dutton, the member for Dickson, on 4 February 2010, well before the last election. Katie Lahey, the chief executive, said in the letter:

I am writing on behalf of the Business Council of Australia (BCA) which represents the CEOs of Australia's top 100 companies to advise you of our support for early commitment by COAG and the Commonwealth government to implementation of the national e-health strategy.

And the coalition has the gall to come in here and say that they are opponents of this. This was the position of the AMA and the Business Council of Australia. Katie Lahey went on to say:

As you are aware, the BCA has been promoting the need for reform of the health system and for sustained improvement in Australia's health status as an integral part of the productivity and workforce participation improvement strategies necessary to underpin Australia's future economic prosperity. We have become convinced that acceleration of a nationally integrated e-health system is fundamental to achieving these reforms.

And the coalition come into this place and say, 'We'll all be ruined if we bring it in.' The coalition's e-health spokesperson, Andrew Southcott, has said:

… $5 billion has been spent on e-health over the past 10 years and the experience is that a lot of money can be wasted.

That is what he claimed: wasted. Well, it actually happened to be the case that the now Leader of the Opposition was the health minister at the time. He presided over much of that expenditure. In 2005 the Leader of the Opposition pulled the plug on the coalition's former HealthConnect shareable e-health records program and created the National E-Health Transition Authority, and money has been spent on that ever since. The coalition say to the public, 'We're in favour of e-health,' and then criticise us about the e-health program and then criticise their own former health minister, now the Leader of the Opposition, about the policy. They do not know whether they are Arthur or Martha on this issue. It is an extraordinary performance by the coalition in relation to this.

The genesis of this was a long time ago. In 1999 the then Howard coalition government took the first steps towards implementation of a national e-health policy. I cannot recall coalition spokespersons at the time getting up and criticising John Howard and his government in relation to that. But now they say, 'We'll all be ruined,' and they say that it is all too rushed. We are developing the foundations of this system. We are doing it carefully, systematically and in consultation with healthcare providers and consumers. We want to get it right and we want to keep going, because we think it is important. This is a complex area of reform. We know that, and we know that it will build over time, as consumers and healthcare providers join the system. That is why we are rolling out e-health pilot sites to trial software and e-health capabilities across the country. We want to make sure that we get the software and the clinical settings right and that there is no risk to patients.

I am pleased that, in my area of Ipswich, the West Moreton-Oxley Medicare Local have been chosen as one of the sites. They have delivered e-health innovations, including adoption of the personally controlled electronic health record, as a wave 2 lead implementation site. I have been in touch with Vicki Poxon, who is in charge of the Medicare Local in relation to this. This is fantastic news for the whole region.

E-health records will provide faster diagnosis, cut down on medication errors, give patients peace of mind and let doctors see a patient's complete history. There are security and privacy protections provided in this legislation. We think e-health sites such as we are going to have in Ipswich and the western corridor are particularly important. Patients will be able to log on to the purpose-built stations at the GP superclinic located at the Ipswich campus of the University of Queensland—another great initiative of this federal Labor government, opposed by those opposite. E-health records will be contained of course—there will be privacy protections—and we are committed to investing $55 million in the lead implementation sites as part of our $467 million. We are committed to a national rollout of the e-health initiative from 1 July 2012.

This is particularly important for my constituents. The West Moreton-Oxley Medicare Local undertake the Ipswich after-hours clinic. A patient who sees a doctor after hours may not see their regular GP and may be referred to a hospital, and it is important to make sure that their medical records are available to all doctors and health professionals they see. The Medicare Local do a great job. Another great initiative they undertake is the Ipswich psychology clinic, again located at the Ipswich campus of the University of Queensland. It is critical to patients. We want to make sure they do not fall through the cracks. We want to make sure that these records are accessible to anyone who touches a patient, effectively, including allied health professionals ultimately and, I think, even people in schools. The West Moreton-Oxley Medicare Local are aiming to have about 100 practices using these records. We think it is key. Vicki Poxon and the whole Medicare Local are particularly excited about this initiative.

But those opposite want to live in the dark ages. They must think that you deliver post by carrier pigeon. They really are living in the Dark Ages in this regard. I am a bit of a digital immigrant, to be honest with you. I have had to learn to use a computer and a BlackBerry and all those things. We all do, as politicians. I see Deputy Speaker Scott nodding his head sagaciously. He is probably in the same situation as me, although I must confess I am just a few years younger than him. But it is important that we have medical records in this way. It is far more likely that you will get things wrong with the outdated approaches that can result in poor information flows, unnecessary duplication of testing, delays and medical errors. Some studies have shown that, in hospital environments, between nine and 17 per cent of tests are unnecessary duplicates and up to 18 per cent of medical errors can be attributed to poor patient information. As I say, the West Moreton-Oxley area—which covers the west and south-west parts of Brisbane, through Ipswich into the Lockyer Valley, the Scenic Rim and up into the Brisbane Valley—will be one of the sites. When the Leader of the Opposition was the Minister for Health and Ageing, he promised e-health. He never delivered it. It is a real tragedy. Somewhere along the line, he must have had a Damascus Road conversion experience, but not a positive one—not like St Paul. He must have had a negative one because, having supported e-health when he was health minister, he decided to cut it at the last election. From comments by those opposite tonight, it looks to me like they have no intention at any stage, notwithstanding what the member for Dickson has said, of ever supporting e-health. But why would they? They opposed the GP superclinics. They opposed GP after-hours hotlines. They opposed the Medicare Locals. They opposed health reform. They opposed the BER in my area. They opposed every road infrastructure and community infrastructure project that this government has ever done.

I think this is a particularly important reform. It will make such a difference to people across the areas of my electorate. I think it is going to be important in terms of peace of mind for patients—they will know that, when they go and see a doctor, that doctor will have access to all their medical records. One of the frustrating things that constituents in Blair have told me is that, when they go to a doctor—and if they get referred to a specialist, another specialist and another specialist, which often is the case—they have to recount, again and again, their medical history. Some of those medical histories can be quite complex. Just imagine if you were, say, a woman who had had a liver transplant. Just say you had also had hepatitis. And you might have needed a knee reconstruction or you might have diabetes. People have, as they get older, lots of chronic ailments, illnesses and indeed injuries. To recount all those things, to remember all those medications as you are getting older, to remember every single thing, is not always easy. But e-health will provide that. For all those opposite who say this is a waste, I think they are really denying something that is in the best interests of their constituents.

We on this side are committed to e-health because we think it is integral to the kinds of reforms that we want to undertake in rural and regional Australia: the cancer clinics we are seeing across the country, the telehealth and the greater numbers of GPs and nurses trained—and they are going into regional and rural areas after many years of neglect and cutbacks in this area. As we have said on many occasions in this place, taking a billion dollars out of the health system was the Leader of the Opposition's legacy as health minister.

I think that those opposite do not quite get how important this particular benefit will be to rural and regional Australians in seats like mine and in seats like so many of theirs—to disadvantaged Australians, to Australians who do not necessarily have English as their first language, to the elderly, to Indigenous people, to families and to the hard-pressed mums who are looking after little kids and have little kids running around a doctor's surgery. Just to say no to this and say no to so much other health reform shows what negativity those opposite have in their hearts and in their minds on health reform.

This legislation before us will enable us in many ways to resolve the tyranny of distance. It will reduce costs associated with caring for an ageing population. It will assist people to be independent for longer. It will minimise, as I said, the potential for errors in patient treatment. It is an ambitious undertaking. We know that, but we think it is important for the 21st century. We think that paper records can be stored incorrectly. They can be read by the wrong person. They can be left unsecured. They can be dumped in a rubbish bin accidentally. Moving to an electronic system reduces those risks, protects patients' medical records and improves privacy. We are about consultation, as we in this government always are. We are going to make sure that we take advantage of high-speed, high-capacity broadband through the National Broadband Network to dramatically change our health services that are delivered to regional and rural Australia.

The CEO of the National E-Health Transition Authority, Peter Fleming, in August last year likened the creation of the personalised e-health records system to the task of putting a man on the moon, a task once thought impossible but a task which was delivered successfully. Those opposite are like the naysayers, basically, who, when President John F Kennedy challenged the US congress in 1961 to commit itself to 'landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth', scoffed. He said he could do it within a decade.

In many ways, I really think e-health is our moon landing. I think it is revolutionary. I think it is visionary. I think it is courageous. I commend the government for it. I commend the former health minister and I commend the current health minister for their personal commitment to this vital reform in this country.