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Wednesday, 16 October 2002
Page: 5277

Senator MARSHALL (2:09 PM) —My question is to Senator Patterson, the Minister for Health and Ageing. My question concerns the ongoing treatment in our nation's hospitals of the very serious burn injuries sustained by victims of the Bali terrorist attack, including the outstanding work of the Alfred hospital in Melbourne. Minister, is there any basis for the concerns expressed overnight that the injuries suffered in Bali have exhausted supplies of artificial skin used to treat badly burned patients? What steps is the government taking to ensure that appropriate medical supplies for the treatment of serious burns victims are available?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank the honourable senator for his question. I should start by saying that I do not think any of us can underestimate the contribution of those in our hospitals—in the emergency departments, in the burns units—or the fact that victims of the attack in Bali are receiving outstanding medical treatment. I will speak on behalf of all senators to express our gratitude for those doctors and nurses who are working around the clock.

Today I telephoned the health ministers who are involved in assisting with the emergency response—the ministers for health in Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory—and spoke to them personally; I was unable to speak to Craig Knowles in New South Wales or Wendy Edmond in Queensland, but I spoke to their chiefs of staff. I thought it was important that, as the Commonwealth health minister, I should speak head to head, face to face or on the phone at least with each of those ministers. They all indicated that they were managing but that some of the staff in the burns units in the hospitals were stretched. The ministers commented on the tremendous job the staff were doing, and I asked the ministers to convey to the staff the gratitude of the members of the Commonwealth parliament—I thought I could do that on behalf of the Commonwealth—for what they were doing. They also had hotline numbers for counselling those people who have been affected.

I am aware of the demand for skin and burns treatment products for victims of the Bali bombing. My department is liaising with the state and territory chief health officers today to assess demand for these types of products. One of the ministers said that there had been an issue but that they had resolved that. The most important product is Transcyte, marketed in Australia by Smith and Nephew. This is used as a temporary cover to reduce fluid loss and prevent infection for a time sufficient for the patient to be grafted with their own skin. Transcyte is registered on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods. A further shipment of Transcyte was brought into Australia last night.

Opposition senator interjecting

Senator PATTERSON —I thought, having asked the question, you might be interested in the answer. A further shipment of Transcyte was brought into Australia last night by the sponsor. Initial assessments by the Therapeutic Goods Administration this morning indicate that there is sufficient product available in Australia to treat current patients. Because of the possibility that supplies of this registered product will not be sufficient, the Therapeutic Goods Administration is exploring the availability overseas of alternative but unregistered products, and there are adequate avenues to permit the supply of such products for emergency use, including the provisions of the recently enacted section 18A of the Therapeutic Goods Act. I just want to add that senior officers in my department are having telephone conferences with senior officers of all the relevant health departments every day and are in contact more frequently than that.