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Tuesday, 11 September 1984
Page: 966


Mr CUNNINGHAM —Is the Minister for Health aware of claims made by 60 Minutes and Nationwide that defective heart valves have caused at least five deaths in Australia? Is the Minister able to say whether the Government will take steps to ensure that heart valves and other therapeutic devices are placed under a satisfactory regime of testing and control to minimise the possibility of further occurrences of this kind?


Dr BLEWETT —I am aware of the grave problems raised by the honourable member for McMillan. It was a matter of great concern to the Government when it became apparent that there was an inadequate regime in this country for supervising medical devices. It appears that at least five people in this country died as a result of faulty artificial heart valves. As soon as this was brought to the Government's attention an immediate report was sought from my Department on ways in which we could deal with this problem. I am pleased to say that since I received this report the Government has taken positive steps to ensure that medical devices used by Australian patients are administered through a safe and effective regime.

My Department has moved to establish a register of medical devices sold in Australia, to collate and disseminate information on problems relating to them, to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of high risk items prior to their marketing, and to establish a facility to develop standards and to test certain types of devices. We have allocated $1.3m in the Budget to provide resources to carry this through and to establish a register of medical devices. If in the event of reports coming in of a faulty device, that device will be traced and an immediate alert issued. I have to say that in the 1970s there was a real revolution in medical devices internationally, a great development in this area, and I think that the previous Government was somewhat negligent in addressing the kinds of problems that flowed from that revolution.

In developing this regime we will be learning from a number of other countries which have begun to apply effective regimes in this area-notably, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Sweden and West Germany.


Mr Hodgman —The Soviet Union.


Dr BLEWETT —That frivolous remark from the honourable member for Denison is typical of the Opposition's attitude. I was listing a series of Western democratic countries from which we are learning about this regime. We got from the honourable member for Denison the remark 'The Soviet Union'. It is typical of the frivolous attitude this Opposition took to this question when in government.


Mr Tuckey —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. The matter would no doubt get considerable support from the Opposition--


Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member will come to his point of order.


Mr Tuckey —It would get support if it were put other than as a question.


Mr SPEAKER —The honourable member will come to his point of order.


Mr Tuckey —Yes, sir. My point of order is that this is an abuse of Question Time and yet it is a matter that could be dealt with at another time.


Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. I call the Minister for Health.


Mr Steedman —You are an abuse of Parliament.


Mr Goodluck —On a point of order, Mr Speaker, that is a remark that I ask the honourable member to withdraw.


Mr SPEAKER —The honourable member for Franklin has asked for the withdrawal of a remark of which the Chair has no knowledge. Does he wish to persist?


Mr Goodluck —The trouble is, sir, that it is broadcast time. Many people in Australia may have heard it if you did not.


Mr SPEAKER —Order! I call the Minister for Health.


Dr BLEWETT —So that members of the House will have realistic expectations in this area, I have to say that the enormous range of devices, ranging from quite simple hypodermic syringes to highly sophisticated computer controlled X-ray equipment, means that we will be able in the first instance to give priority only to high risk medical devices, but we will be seeking the co-operation of manufacturers and distributors to make a broadly effective regime in this area.