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Tuesday, 9 September 1958
Page: 953


Order! That was not necessarily a refusal of a hearing. That was merely putting the matter in its right perspective.

Mr DUTHIE - Well, putting it in its right perspective.

I wish to make an appeal to the Government to assist crippled people who have to be sent overseas for specific specialist treatment not available in Australia. I have previously suggested the kind of assistance that could be given to these folk, and if this Government is not prepared to consider the request that I make this afternoon, the new government, which will take office after 22nd November, most certainly will do so. I have put this matter formally before the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), who knows all about it, and he has refused help of any kind. I now address an appeal to the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron).

So often, Mr. Chairman, people who are unable to finance a trip out of their own resources have to go overseas for specialist treatment, and it then behoves public and voluntary organizations to get together in an effort to raise the funds needed to send a sufferer to England, Europe or the United States of America. My appeal this afternoon is specifically on behalf of the many people who have been stricken with severe spinal injuries, in particular, unusual brain or heart diseases, and other rare derangements of the human body, and who, in the opinion of the Australian specialists treating them, may be healed, even partially, by specialist treatment available in the United Kingdom, Europe or the United States - I emphasize that it is treatment not available in Australia. I am seeking assistance, not for cases that could be treated in Australia, but only for those special cases that cannot be treated or healed here. I suggest that it should be a condition of financial assistance from the Commonwealth Government that only such cases are eligible.

The Prime Minister's Department distributes a lot of grants to various groups throughout Australia each financial year. Under Miscellaneous Services, at page 96 of the Estimates now before us, we find that, in the financial year 1957-58, the Prime Minister's Department expended £64,650 on fifteen specific grants to various organizations. I feel that, although this is a matter that could be dealt with primarily by the Department of Health, the financial aspect of it should be finally handled by the Prime Minister's Department, which makes a very wide range of grants indeed.

I propose to cite the details of a specific case which has arisen in Tasmania, and which is personally known to me, and to illustrate it by particular reference to what has occurred in the last two months. A year ago, Harold Roper, a metallurgist who lives in my electorate, fell twelve feet onto concrete while helping to construct a new mill at the Rossarden Storey's Creek wolfram mine, and broke his back. He spent twelve months in the Launceston General Hospital, and at the end of that time the specialists there could do nothing more for him. Roper is now paralysed from the waist down. He is only 35, and has a family of five children; so his is a desperate case. For the rest of his life it appeared that he would be forced to lie bed-ridden in some hospital.

Some of Roper's friends got together and formed a committee to raise money to send him to England for treatment. I came into the matter after the committee had been formed, when I was asked to become the trustee of the Harold Roper Fund and to assist in makins plans and to complete the arrangements for a trip to England to the Institute of Spinal Injuries, at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, in Buckinghamshire, where special treatment is given to patients who have sustained broken backs and1 other spinal injuries. The Hobart " Mercury " newspaper, at my request, after three weeks of investigation, decided to conduct a public appeal throughout Tasmania. Since it has the biggest coverage of the State among the three daily newspapers, that was a big help, and it did a wonderful job. The appeal was so successful that in six weeks £3,000 had been raised. That was the target that had been set to meet the expense of Roper's trip to England, including his fares, and treatment at a cost of £40 a week. It seemed an extremely difficult target to set at the outset, but the response of the Tasmanian people was magnificent, and they gave willingly to help us in our efforts to have Roper treated', and perhaps to get him on crutches again, as we planned. We were assisted by the Red Cross Society, churches, unions, sporting bodies with which Mr. Roper was associated and by many thousands of private persons. They helped us to raise £3,000 in six weeks.

We put Mr. Roper on an aircraft from Launceston to Melbourne on 17th August, and placed him on "Strathaird". All arrangements were made to place him in the hospital bay under the supervision of the ship's surgeon. A special rotor bed was made up at the Hobart Technical College, and this was the first time such a bed has been used on the ship. Mr. Roper had to lie for periods on his back and on his stomach for treatment and, with the rotor bed, he was able to have both forms of treatment without being turned over by hand. " Strathaird " is now passing through the Suez Canal and will arrive in England on 22nd September. Mr. Roper will then go into hospital. In England, Lady Binney is to help Mrs. Roper.

That is a specific case of a man who could not afford to pay even one-twentieth of the expenses himself. His wife has gone with him, but she had to sell personal assets to enable her to do so, as the fund was organized solely to help Mr. Roper. I have had a bank account opened at the Commonwealth Bank in London for Mr. Roper to use. I believe that such cases should receive a grant from the Commonwealth Government because the appropriate treatment cannot be given in Australia. I made representations to the Tasmanian Government, and it granted £500 towards the appeal. That was a magnificent stimulus to us all. Mr. Roper was not known personally to members of the Tasmanian Government, but they dealt with the request on its merits. I also approached the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), and in a reply dated 12th August, 1958, the right honorable gentleman stated -

.   . I know you have been trying to see me about this for the last week or so and I would be pleased to have a talk about it with you if I were not having such a particularly busy time.

I did not get an interview with the Prime Minister, although I waited a fortnight. The letter from the right honorable gentleman continued -

However, having had a careful look at the papers to save time for both of us I think I should let you know that I can see no way of agreeing to your request.

There is no established fund or departmental allocation from which assistance could be given to cases like the one you have raised. Moreover, there is a number of objections to the establishment of a fund for this purpose; in particular, from what medical people say, there would be endless differences of opinion (even in the present case) as to whether or not the special treatment required is available in Australia and whether treatment overseas would produce any beneficial effect.

That is not the point at all. There is no doctor who could say for certain in all cases that the patient concerned would get better. That is a risk we would all have to take, just as we are taking it in this case with Mr. Harold Roper. The thousands of persons who have given amounts varying from 10s. to £100 have given the money in a venture of faith that he might get back on to crutches, at least; but he might not improve. He might be brought back to Australia in a year's time no better than he is now. That is a risk we have taken and a risk that the Government must take in helping special cases of this sort. The Prime Minister added in his letter -

It seems clear, therefore, that it would be impracticable to administer a scheme of assistance which would give general satisfaction and it is considered that any assistance for the purpose of seeking medical treatment overseas would best be given, as in past cases, by local community effort and by those voluntary organizations which help in matters of this kind.

All right! Let them do that. But let the Government make specific grants of £500 or £300, as the case may be, to help in such cases and to assist the voluntary organizations. I am not asking the Government to make a grant to cover fares and treatment overseas entirely. All I ask for is a specific grant worked out by the department concerned. To meet the Prime Minister's difficulty, I would suggest that, when a medical man or a specialist ruled that a case should go overseas, the patient should go before a panel of specialists approved by the Department of Health. The panel could be selected to deal with brain, heart or back cases. If a majority of the specialists were of the opinion that the man or woman concerned would probably be cured or greatly improved overseas under specialist treatment, either in England or the United States of America, the patient should be eligible for government assistance.

I raise this matter purely for humanitarian reasons. I have had the case I have mentioned before me for the last two months, and I know the details. Mr. Roper and his wife have left their family behind - one is a baby nine months old - in the hope hat the father may be even partially cured at the institute which specializes in spinal injuries. If this Government will not consider my request, I repeat that we on this side of the chamber will take it up again when we become the government after the general elections. One of our objectives will be to provide such humanitarian aid.

The Prime Minister approves of grants to all sorts of organizations. We spend millions of pounds in bringing immigrants to Australia. Could we not spend a few thousands of pounds a year in helping Australians to go to England for specialist treatment that cannot be given in Australia? I believe that we have a strong case for consideration by the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron), who is sitting at the table. Grants are given through the Prime Minister's Department to the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, the Royal Australian Historical Society, the Girl Guides Association, Boy Scouts Association, Surf Life Saving Association, Royal Life Saving Society, Social Science Research Council of Australia, Pan-Indian Ocean Science Congress, Pacific Science Congress and the Australian Institute of Management. Those are some of the organizations which are assisted by the Government. If appropriate provision were made, the Department of Health could make payments as I have suggested, just as grants are made through the Prime Minister's Department. The Minister for Health is a humanitarian. He has. helped me several times since I have been in Canberra. Many honorable members have had assistance from him when they have cracked up under the strain of political life.

Finally, I wish to express a word of criticism of the present health scheme. When the Australian Labour party is returned to office after 22nd November, we will introduce a new health scheme for Australia. I criticize the present scheme on several grounds. First, it has forced many people in Australia to join medical benefit associations against their will. I am one of them. I resisted joining a medical benefits society for two and a half years until I saw that I was cutting off my nose to spite my face, and we had ill health in the family. There are eighty associations in Australia which are recognized. Many of them are reaping terrific profits from the sickness of the people. My second criticism is the effect t that the cost of hospitalization and the payment of benefits is having on basic wage earners who are becoming afraid to seek medical aid, and the consequent delay is serious.

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