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Transcript of doorstop interview: 4 October 2011: Hobart PET Scanner; Tasmanian health budget; eHealth; plain packaging of tobacco



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THE HON NICOLA ROXON MP

Minister for Health and Ageing

TRANSCRIPT OF DOOR STOP - 4 OCTOBER 2011

TOPICS: Hobart PET Scanner; Tasmanian health budget; eHealth; plain packaging of tobacco

E&OE ONLY

NICOLA ROXON: Okay, thanks very much for coming. You've heard the good news that we are here today to officially open the public PET scanner at Hobart hospital, the first time that there have been public PET services available in Tasmania, and it's going to ensure that many, many Tasmanians don't have to travel as they have been with their families to Melbourne and elsewhere to have a scan taken.

This is a state-of-the-art facility, fabulously designed by the team here. And I think that any Tasmanian who has the unfortunate news that they have a disease, which means they need this scan, will be delighted that they can have them in such comfortable facilities and with such professional staff.

But you've heard that's the reason that we're here today to announce a new investment, but we're happy to take any questions that you might have about this and other issues.

QUESTION: With investments like this, are you confident that the state government will be able to staff facilities like this with the ongoing budget cuts?

NICOLA ROXON: Well, I am confident that this facility is being well staffed. And, in fact, just talking with the team here, having the state-of-the-art facilities certainly does help recruit people to - who want to work in these sorts of services, want to be able to provide top quality care. And, to be honest, in Tasmania, you have a pretty good lifestyle as well and there are plenty of people who want to move here with their families and get a good education and have a good life.

I'm not concerned about the recruitment. Of course, we are always concerned if state governments take money out of the health system. We never want to see that happen. But I do understand that there are pressures in Tasmania and we do understand why governments want to make sure that their budgets add up.

What we would do is urge that any decisions that are made are ones that don't affect services to the community. There are, no doubt, administrative

savings that can be made and we hope that that's very much where any focus of any cuts or savings will be.

We have an agreement with the states and territories that when we put our extra investment in, it cannot replace their investment. So, there are certain requirements to maintain effort as part of the health reform deal, and I am assured that they will be continued here in Tasmania, as we've been assured they will be in other states.

QUESTION: So, will you be keeping a close eye on which services are cut, if any are cut?

NICOLA ROXON: Oh, absolutely. But we've made clear, as part of the health reform deal that was struck with the Prime Minister and the states and territories that we're prepared to step up to a bigger share of funding of the health system.

But it is a health system that is run by each state and territory, so each organisational decision that's made are ones for the states and territories.

But, of course, we are equal funders in growth in the system and, obviously, targeting particular investments in emergency departments or in sub-acute care. We'll keep an eye on the commitment that every state and territory made to maintain their effort in those areas, so that our funding is additional funding providing more services to Tasmanians, not replacing funding that the Tasmanian Government might withdraw.

QUESTION: Do you feel confident that the state government is managing the Health Department effectively?

NICOLA ROXON: I think that every state government has a challenge. You know, health is a notoriously difficult portfolio at the state level and at the federal level. There are a lot of complex needs, a lot of complex demands.

I have admiration for my state colleagues, who do have a difficult job, but we are now in a process where we are reforming the system, which is going to make some of those things in the future a lot easier, because the Commonwealth and the states have more clearly identified who will pay for what, how we will run things in the future, how local clinicians and local communities will have more say.

So yes, I think it's a hard job. I think we're doing a lot of things together that will make it better into the future. But no doubt, some states will have some rough periods along the way.

QUESTION: Oh sorry. On the e-health, the Australian Privacy Foundation says the privacy guarantees are inadequate. What's got to be done to change them to make them more adequate?

NICOLA ROXON: Well, I'm really surprised that this approach is being taken by the Privacy Foundation. There are very few protections currently in place for paper records which are held in big institutions like a hospital, in general practices, in a pathology provider and others. With the introduction of an electronic health record, we are actually improving on the current system. And instead, we're seeing what is, I think, a borderline obsession that if you use new technology that that's going to create a risk.

We need to improve the way we use technology in health. It will deliver enormous benefits into the future. We will save on repeat scans that need to be taken because people have lost the image that, you know, normally you tuck under your arm and put away somewhere, and hope that in three months, or three years when you need it, you'll be able to find it again.

You know, we need to move with the technology. We've got a very strong system in place for protecting patients and making sure that they are able to control information in a way that they can't currently do with paper records.

So, I would urge the Privacy Foundation and others where - we've put this out for consultation - we're very open to constructive comments. But we need to look at where we are and what we're moving to and not be obsessed with technology always being a risk when it can actually be a huge opportunity.

QUESTION: I mean, they're saying though that this system's going to be unusable, so do you think that has any validity?

NICOLA ROXON: Well, I don't agree with that at all. I think that we've taken a lot of time and worked with a lot of health and technology experts to get this system well developed.

There's a huge enthusiasm among patients, particularly those with chronic diseases who are users of the health system very regularly, that they will be able to have their information stored in one place, available to a range of health professionals, available in emergency situations, and I think it is quite wrong to say that the system will not be usable.

But as I say, we've released this for public consultation. If people have constructive contributions to make, we are all ears.

QUESTION: So you're open to changing the laws?

NICOLA ROXON: This is draft legislation. You release draft legislation for comment, so people can comment. If there are useful and constructive comments that are made, of course, we would consider those.

QUESTION: Just on cigarette packaging laws, is it reasonable that other tobacco products be subject to the same laws as cigarettes?

NICOLA ROXON: Well, what we know about tobacco is there is no safe amount of tobacco that you can smoke. We know that every cigarette, cigar, roll-your-own product can lead to serious disease. And we, as a government, are committed to reducing the harms caused by tobacco, and that means we have to be committed to reducing the harms caused by cigarette, but also the harms caused by cigars and loose-leafed tobacco.

There are different types of packaging, so our introduction of the world's first plain packaging laws will need to apply in different ways to cigars, to loose-leafed packaging, and what we've released for consultation is a paper that shows you how we plan to do that and some ideas and options for feedback.

QUESTION: Is it going to be cost-effective given that less people use the non-cigarette [indistinct]?

NICOLA ROXON: Well, what we want to make sure is that there isn't any incentive for people to switch from one product to another. We don't want people to misunderstand a warning, thinking maybe that it's dangerous to smoke a cigarette, it's safe to smoke a cigar. It is not safe to smoke tobacco, full stop, and we're using these laws to cover all tobacco products.

QUESTION: Are you satisfied that you're winning, I suppose, the public - the battle against the cigarette companies over the...

NICOLA ROXON: Well, I don't think that's a question you can ask me. I'm satisfied that we are currently winning that battle. The legislation is due to be passed through the Senate in the next fortnight. We'll be the first country in the world to introduce those laws.

I've just returned from the health conference in New York at the United Nations where for only the second time in the world that all of the countries around the world are focused on health issues and non-communicable diseases. So cancer, diabetes, stroke, others were the focus because this is now accepted that in the developing world, as well as the developed world, these are increasingly becoming the issues that are killing more and more people.

We used to have an international focus just on infectious and contagious diseases. Now, we know the burden of disease is also contributed to by harm that is caused by smoking, harm that's caused by a whole range of other preventable diseases, and we're going to keep working on this. And there was enormous international interest in the way that other countries could also enhance their tobacco controls. And a lot of advice from other countries that are being sued by tobacco companies for introducing laws that we have had in Australia for many decades that we were sued for at the time that we introduced them.

This is the way tobacco companies operate. They no doubt will sue us. We no doubt will win those arguments and Australians will be better off if we can reduce the smoking rates.

* Ends *