Tuesday, 30 November 2021
Health, Aged Care and Sport Committee; Report
I agree with the member for Dobell that it is important that all Australians have access to affordable health care—and Medicare's not going anywhere. I'm very pleased to be able to stand in the Federation Chamber in this place and speak on this report called The New Frontier: Delivering Better Health for All Australians, which is why many of us are here. We want to be able to see that, ongoing for Australians, there is affordable and accessible health care for those who can't afford it. It's worked very well having half-private, half-public—just like schooling, half-public, half-private works very well; of course, we've heard the great Liberal leader John Howard iterate that many times.
First, I want to acknowledge the chair, the member for North Sydney and the deputy chair; Deputy Speaker Freelander, member for Macarthur; my colleagues, the member for Higgins, member for Reid, member for Dobell of course, and for Oxley and Makin for their inputs into this very special and important inquiry.
The report looks at opportunities to deliver better health care for Australians through our regulatory and health technology assessment process for both medicines and technologies. As outlined in the chair's forward and at the heart of this inquiry are the needs of patients, Australians who are born with or acquire conditions, many of which have so far eluded highly effective treatments. That's why this inquiry was undertaken: for the future of those Australians who face those health difficulties. It is very challenging. We all have health challenges in our lifetimes; very few of us actually get through our lives without some kind of health challenge. So it was very important to me personally to be part of this inquiry with my colleagues who did such a good job. It was a bipartisan effort, Deputy Speaker, as you're very aware. Everything in this report is about those Australians with rare medical conditions, especially those Australians who may require novel drug and treatment technologies, and those who indeed sometimes in their darkest hour need hope for moving forward.
Australia has one of the best health systems in the world, as we've heard members from both sides of this chamber acknowledge. Our success in protecting Australians during a global pandemic is the latest evidence of both the strength of our healthcare system, and the quality and dedication of all of those who work in the health sector. Can I take the opportunity to thank you if you work in the healthcare sector for the work that you've done, particularly over the last 21 or 22 months and moving forward into next year. Let's compare Australia's record, sadly, of, 2,000 deaths during this pandemic. Of course, each one is a tragedy, each one belongs to a family—perhaps a father, an uncle, a son or a daughter. But, when we compare our record to other countries around the world—for example the United States, with 750,000 lives lost—each one, again is tragic and has a ripple effect on all of those family members. Our country has indeed done very well.
And of course innovation is happening at a very fast pace. Governments have a duty to ensure that Australians continue to have access quickly to medicines and medical technology and that our health systems facilitate that outcome rather than hinder it. Australians can also benefit from being at the forefront of innovation through clinical trials and having a strong domestic research development and manufacturing capacity. Some of these comments were made by the chair of this particular committee, the member for North Sydney.
In 2019 more than 95,000 Australians participated in clinical trials, which saw the commencement of approximately 1,880 trials, which employed 8,000 Australians. I speak of this because it is particularly relevant in my electorate of Moncrieff. The Gold Coast clinical trial sector is an emerging, rapidly growing sector with well-established demand drivers, including ageing and diverse and rapid population growth. The Gold Coast is actually the largest regional city in the country for the delivery of clinical trials, experiencing 32 per cent growth and employing approximately 44,000 people. That's significant. It is an emerging sector on the Gold Coast.
One example of emerging technology in Moncrieff is that which is being used by Dr Hal Rice. I've spoken about him before in this chamber, but he deserves me taking a few moments to talk about his achievements in terms of surgery on brain aneurysms. What Dr Rice does is robotically perform surgery on brain aneurysms. He also has a 3D printer, with which he prints out the actual aneurysm that a person has—the stroke or the blood clot in the brain—and his medical students are able to rehearse on that 3D model of the aneurysm. This, indeed, saves lives. Virtually every time I invite Dr Rice to anything, he has to scuttle off to save another life. I thank him for the work that he does out of the ADaPT centre at Griffith University, which is my alma mater.
I'm very proud of the growing clinical trial, medtech and biotech sectors at the health and knowledge precinct at Griffith University in Southport. Recommendation 17 of the report actually recommends:
… that the Australian Government establish a scheme that supports the domestic medical technology sector, similar to the Food and Drug Administration's Breakthrough Devices Program in the United States.
I support that because it will support the growing sector on the Gold Coast.
I can't talk to all the recommendations, because time does fly in the chamber, but I will talk quickly about recommendation No. 1, which is:
… the Australian Government establish a Centre for Precision Medicine and Rare Diseases within the Department of Health.
This would enable a dedicated centre for rare diseases and a way forward for those who need access to drugs and technology to treat and perhaps cure their conditions. The committee also recommended that the Department of Health's capacity should be enhanced to provide Australians with timely access to new drugs and novel medical technologies, including for rare diseases, and that health technology assessment, HTA, processes and the government's research agenda should align with this outcome.
This was also part of recommendation 1:
The Centre should provide advice to the Department of Health and the Australian Medical Research Advisory Board on research priorities—
Again, a fantastic recommendation—
The Centre should provide education and training information including support for patients and a comprehensive horizon scanning unit for new medicines and novel medical technologies.
The committee has further recommended:
The Centre should provide advice to governments on the establishment of a dedicated regulatory Health Technology Assessment pathway for cell and gene technologies, in consultation with state and territory governments, industry, patients and other relevant stakeholders. The Centre should regularly provide advice to government on the effectiveness of those pathways and areas for further reform.
This particular report had 31 recommendations. I encourage those at home to go to the Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport's webpage, on the aph.gov.au website, download the report and have a good read of the work that the committee has undertaken. I thank committee members for the bipartisan way in which we approached this, which is for the future health of the Australian population. We heard from many patient-advocacy groups around the country. To those Australians who are battling a rare disease or are unwell at this time: our thoughts are with you. We're working for you, the Australian people, to assist in delivering Australians health care for the future.