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Wednesday, 19 September 2001
Page: 31078

Mr Kerr asked the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, upon notice, on 21 August 2001:

(1) Has his attention been drawn to recommendations implemented by the Minister for Health and Aged Care following recommendations by the Medicare Specialist Advisory Committee regarding funding of hyperbaric medicine.

(2) Has he received advice that the restriction of the use of hyperbaric medical facilities is likely to increase the number of amputations for conditions currently treated conservatively through high pressure oxygen; if so, will he undertake to examine funding directly through his portfolio, expenditures the Department of Health and Aged Care will no longer meet for the care of veterans.

Mr Bruce Scott (Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) Yes.

(2) I understand that the impact of the Medicare Specialist Advisory Committee (MSAC) recommendations is to amend the current Medicare Benefits Schedule to limit access to Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) to patients with conditions of decompression illness, gas gangrene, air or gas embolism, diabetic wounds, or necrotising soft tissue infections. This means that veterans with wounds related to peripheral vascular disease and soft tissue radionecrosis would no longer be able to access publicly funded HBOT for treatment of these conditions.

The MSAC assessment report found there was insufficient evidence for the effectiveness of HBOT for either of these conditions. Based on evidence currently available, it cannot be concluded that excluding veterans with peripheral vascular disease from accessing HBOT will have any effect on the incidence of lower limb amputation in this group.

However, following concerns expressed by the hyperbaric medical profession about the potential impact of withdrawal of HBOT for these indications, the Department of Health and Aged Care has agreed to maintain interim access to the use of HBOT for wounds related to peripheral vascular disease and soft tissue radionecrosis. While these items will not appear in the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), due for release in November 2001, funding of benefits for these indications will continue until 1 May 2002, by which time MSAC should have considered a further submission from the profession which may or may not provide more evidence for the efficacy of HBOT treatment for these conditions.

The Commonwealth's position will be reconsidered again following MSAC's determination of this matter in May 2002.