House debates

Monday, 6 March 2023

Private Members' Business

Blood Stem Cell Donation

11:51 am

Photo of Meryl SwansonMeryl Swanson (Paterson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I'm pleased to speak today about the critical issue of the bone marrow donation in Australia and the importance of reform to deliver improved outcomes for Australians with blood cancers. As many of my esteemed colleagues have noted, we understand Australia has not moved fast enough to enable more effective matching of bone marrow donors with patients who need it, and I was particularly astounded to hear from my colleague the member for Macarthur that it is indeed the case that eight of 10 recipients still have to get bone marrow from overseas.

Could you imagine if everyone who did an Ancestry DNA test was also able to be matched up to be a blood donor? People are so desperate to find out, 'Where did I come from? What's my heritage? What's my ancestry? Who am I?' We could extend that just a little bit more to say, 'This is who you are, and here's how you could help someone who has blood cancer.' It's actually not that difficult. The technology exists right now, and we pride ourselves here in Australia on setting the standard when it comes to health and innovative treatments against disease. It's unclear really why Australia has moved so slowly over the past 10 years and in particular compared to some of those other countries we've spoken about, and this seems to be in part because no single government has taken sole responsibility or there's no leading authority. Again, as has been pointed out, sometimes our federation does fail us in matters like this, and it seems to me we do need to have some sort of coordination point for this particular registry especially.

The Albanese government wants to ensure Australians have the best chance to access life-saving technology, and I'm pleased the Minister for Health and Aged Care will be holding discussions with health ministers from the states and territories to ensure we cut through the jurisdictional bureaucratic red tape. It really hasn't served people with blood cancers well, and we do need to move forward. I think everyone, whether they're from the opposition, the crossbench or the government in this House today, has recognised that there is an issue. We can't go on not being able to source enough bone marrow to give our own fellow Australians what they need to have the best chance they can at being well.

We understand the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry is still recovering from the impacts of the pandemic, and that was just an additional knock on top. In the three years prior to the pandemic Australian patient searches grew at an average of 4.7 per cent per annum, and Australian patient transplants grew at an average of two per cent per annum over the same period. The pandemic has caused major disruptions, but we do need to move forward. The number of completed transplants involving unrelated hematopoietic stem cell are down 10 per cent in 2021, compared to the year prior. Off the back of the global pandemic, it has never been more critical that we see collaboration from all levels of government to improve health outcomes and restore the progress of the Australian health system, and especially the bone marrow registry. I am pleased that Commonwealth, state and territory governments have committed to reducing Australia's dependency on overseas donors. This will achieve meaningful improvement. We understand that the Australian bone marrow cancer register has identified that our donor pool should contain three per cent of Australia's population of 18- to 35-year-olds. I have also noted that there has been a call to raise that to 40. I think everyone will agree, including my colleague from Macarthur, that 40 is certainly the new 35, especially when it comes to bone marrow!


No comments