House debates

Monday, 6 March 2023

Private Members' Business

Blood Stem Cell Donation

11:32 am

Photo of Dan RepacholiDan Repacholi (Hunter, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I () (): I rise today to speak on this very important topic of bone marrow donation. Cancer is one of the most horrible things that any individual and their family will ever have to go through. There is not a family in this country who have not in some way been impacted by this horrible disease. Bone marrow is a vital tool to help in the fight against cancer. That's why donations of bone marrow are so important. Bone marrow donations provide the stem cells required for stem cell transplants. This underpins cutting-edge treatments for people fighting leukaemia and a range of other blood cancers, which are challenges being faced by many Australians. But Australia has not moved fast enough to enable more effective matching of bone marrow donors with patients who need them. At the end of last year the national registry had 131,806 donors of bone marrow. But this is too small. There are simply not enough people in this registry to meet the demand.

To make matters worse, our bone marrow donation system is also too slow. It has not kept up with international standards, including on things like cheek swabs and age limits of donors. Cheek swabs are used across the world, and they are an effective and very economical way of bringing additional donors to the registry. These checks will help give people a better chance of life. Instead of using this effective, cheap and up-to-date technology, a person who wishes to join the registry is required to have a blood test. It baffles me that cheek swabs are a system that has not yet been introduced into Australia.

It's clear why Australia has moved so slowly over the past decade, particularly compared to some other countries, but one thing is clear: we have fallen behind the rest of the world. It is people like those in my electorate, in the Hunter, who are paying the price, with it being more difficult for people in rural and remote Australia to get to a collection centre.

No single government, between the Commonwealth and the states and territories, has sole responsibility or sole authority to make sure Australia keeps up with the rest of the world and makes the most of the newest advances in technology. This is an issue, and it means that patients in Australia do not have the best chance to access life-saving technology. Currently our state and territory governments fund hematopoietic progenitor cell collection—let's refer to that mouthful as HPC from here on in. This collection is funded through grants or contracts with organisations and, to make matters worse, these can be separate agreements with each state and territory government.

We all know the limits that those in rural and regional areas face getting access to services and, at times, it can be difficult for people in remote and rural Australia to get to a collection centre. This means there is more dependency on international donors. The registry size and donor demographics are not aligned with Australia's population and HPC transplantation needs. Currently, the registry of HPC donors is managed by the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry under contract by the Commonwealth and cost shared with states and territories. The recruitment of the HPC donors is managed by Lifeblood under contract by state and territory governments. Something needs to be done about this. Australians deserve to have access to the best and most modern technology when it comes to their health. Australians should be confident that when they need medical procedures they are in the best hands in the world with access to the most up-to-date procedures and technologies. In this country we pride ourselves on our health system and we need to live up to it.

This government believes Australians deserve nothing but the best. We are going to get on with the job and work to address the issues in our bone marrow donation system. The Minister for Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, is going to start by discussing with health ministers the best way to cut through some of the red tape and clear the way for donor recruitment, because, at the end of the day, there is nothing more important than the health of Australians.


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