Monday, 18 October 2010
Private Members’ Business
National Stroke Awareness Week
Debate resumed, on motion by Ms Hall:
That this House:
- notes that:
- National Stroke Awareness Week was 13 to 19 September;
- sixty thousand people will suffer a stroke this year, that is, one stroke every 10 minutes;
- stroke is the second single greatest killer after coronary and a leading cause of disability in Australia;
- one in five people having a first stroke die within one month, and one in three die within one year;
- twenty per cent of all strokes occur in people under fifty five years of age;
- eighty eight per cent of stroke survivors live at home, and most have a disability;
- stroke kills more women than breast cancer;
- stroke costs Australia $2.14 billion a year, yet is preventable; and
- education plays an important role in reducing the occurrence of stroke; and
- the role played by the families and carers of stroke victims;
- the work of the National Stroke Foundation;
- the effectiveness of the FAST campaign; and
- that prevention is the best cure.
In speaking to my motion, I would like to acknowledge the fine work done by a number of health professionals and organisations that provide support to those people that suffer from stroke. National Stroke Awareness Week was held between 13 and 19 September. Due to the election, parliament was not sitting during that period, which was unfortunate since I had a number of constituents approach me and ask me if I could raise this issue in the House. In June last year I also raised the issue of stroke and the fine work that is being done by a number of organisations, particularly Stroke and Disability Information (Hunter) Inc. I will talk a little bit about them as I progress with my contribution.
The National Stroke Foundation is obviously the umbrella organisation for all stroke support and information groups throughout the country, and it has used the opportunity of Stroke Awareness Week to launch its new and interactive website. This website has been designed to assist Australians to identify and understand the warning signs and the causes of stroke. Central to the 2010 campaign was the ongoing promotion of the FAST test, which stands for face, arms, speech and time—a way of quickly and easily remembering the signs. People are advised to check the victim’s face—has their mouth or one side of their face drooped. Then, can they lift both of their arms? Is their speech at all slurred; can people understand them? And time is critical—time is of the essence. Dialling 000, getting assistance immediately, is of the utmost importance. Quick, effective treatment will mean that the level of disability that a person has following a stroke is minimised.
A lot of people are mistaken about what a stroke is. It is not a heart attack. A lot of people think that a stroke is a heart attack, and that is an issue addressed by the education that has been done through National Stroke Awareness week and also by the foundation. Rather, a stroke is when the supply of blood to the brain is suddenly interrupted. That could be caused through a blockage in the artery to the brain, or it could be caused by a haemorrhage in the brain. The simple message is that those blood vessels to the brain are not working effectively, the blood supply is denied, and when that happens damage occurs to the brain. It can be a clot or plaque, or it can be an artery bursting.
The first part of understanding stroke is knowing what it is. The next important thing is for all Australians to understand how frequent an occurrence this is. On average in Australia there is a stroke every 10 minutes—every 10 minutes somebody suffers from a stroke. One in three people die within a year of having a stroke. Stroke kills more women than breast cancer. This is something that, once again, is not publicised enough. Almost one in five people who experience a stroke are under the age of 55, and more men are likely to suffer a stroke at a younger age.
In the motion I have put before the parliament I have listed some of the contributors to stroke—things such as obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption and other risky behaviours. Those with diabetes also face an increased risk. If a person has more than one of these factors their likelihood of suffering a stroke is even greater. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of lifestyle, the importance of recognition, the importance of knowing what a stroke is and the importance of adhering to the FAST test advocated by the National Stroke Foundation.
In the time remaining I would like to talk a little about the Stroke and Disability Information service that operates in the Shortland electorate. It provides a service to people throughout the Hunter. I acknowledge the fine work of Dr Chris Levi, who came down and visited Parliament House I think earlier this year with a number of other doctors and professors who work in neurology. The work he has done and the work that continues to be done through the Hunter Medical Research Institute has been groundbreaking and has led to a minimising of the effects of stroke. That work is raising awareness of the science of stroke and of the development of the FAST test. They are also working with clinicians to ensure that they are very aware of the implications of stroke, the benefits of acting quickly and the recognition of stroke.
SADI provides a direct service to people in Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and the coalfields. It is a service provided by mail, email or telephone. They hold free seminars and workshops on stroke disability and health related issues. They have a lot of knowledge—they know about the health system; they know how people can access that system. If somebody has suffered a stroke or has a disability, they work with them to ensure that they can access all the resources that are available. They hold an annual Disability and Seniors Forum, they link people to community support, they support stroke recovery groups and they advocate on behalf of people who have suffered a stroke and been left with some disability. I would like particularly to acknowledge the work of the coordinator, Juliet Roosendaal, and the special projects officer, Judy Webb-Ryall. They have done fantastic work. They work very well with the community and they are totally dedicated to ensuring that the people of the Hunter are well taken care of and well informed about stroke.
A member of the board, Stuart Chalmers, suffered a stroke in his early forties and has a residual disability. But he has not let that stop him. He has been involved with Caves Beach surf club, he has supervised offenders on weekend detention and he constantly contributes to the community. He continues to contribute to the community through SADI. Stuart was awarded an OAM earlier this year for the work he has done in supporting people who have suffered a stroke and for working with those people in the community. I would also like to acknowledge the work of his very good friend Jim Folwell, who accompanies him on many of his visits to work with people in the community who have had strokes and to raise awareness of strokes. I commend this important motion to the House. (Time expired)
I thank the member for Shortland for moving this motion and bringing this important issue before the House. I remember that last year during National Stroke Awareness Week blood pressure checks were offered. I was just saying to my colleague the member for Forrest that I remember having one here. I thought at the time that I was doing alright but when I now look at my blood pressure it is apparently in the range of normal to high, so I think I have a bit of a vested interest in this subject.
Although my father passed away some years ago, back in the 1970s he had several minor strokes. You do not have to go very far before you realise that this is an insidious condition that impacts many people. We realise that strokes, whether it is through killing or permanently disabling people, are a very serious issue. I suspect that a lot of people do not realise how serious the risk is.
When you look at the lifestyle factors involved, high blood pressure is right up there, along with smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol levels, drinking heavily, a high-fat, low-fibre diet and a lack of exercise. I think that for many of us here, and for many people in the community, these are things that we should certainly be aware of. The National Stroke Foundation has been doing a very good job in highlighting what the risks are but it is beholden on all of us to have a close look at ourselves, particularly once we get to mid-life—certainly beyond the 40s. I am sure I am the only one here in that category, since everyone else is much younger than me. I think you have to look in the mirror and do a bit of self-assessment because some of these are real issues. I will not go into my personal issues here, but I think there are a couple of issues that I should be aware of—diet and high blood pressure might be two of those but luckily none of the others.
We know that diabetes is a major issue in this country. This is particularly true for type 2 diabetes, which is more associated with lifestyle and affects a lot of people. When we wander around our electorates—or even look in the mirror—we might see people in this country who are particularly at risk. It comes back to education and taking a bit of personal responsibility. Looking at my own diet, I have decided in the last few days—not as a result of this motion—to take white bread and butter out of my diet. Unfortunately, there are a not too many vices left, but I am looking out for those sorts of risks. Now that we are back in parliament a lot more physical activity is required.
When you look at the symptoms, this is exactly where education needs to be focused, and a lot of Australians need to look closely at what is happening to them. The member for Shortland mentioned the FAST test. I will briefly run through that. These are the symptoms of a pending stroke: a numb or weak feeling in the face, arm or leg; trouble speaking or understanding; unexplained dizziness; blurred or poor vision in one or both eyes; loss of balance or an unexplained fall; difficulty swallowing; headaches or an unexplained change in the pattern of headaches; and confusion and unconsciousness. If a person has any of those problems it is right to call 000 immediately and get an ambulance for a trip to the hospital.
If Australians better understood that these symptoms are not to be ignored we would end up with a lot fewer people dying or being disabled as a result of strokes. When you look at the lifestyle factors that I mentioned before, you also look for the ages—certainly beyond the age of 40—and the family history of individuals. These are all risk factors that we need to be particularly aware of. Hopefully, education will mean that people do not need to learn too many lessons about this, but it does require people with these sorts of risk factors to be very self-critical. It is time to make some moves. It is time to ask: ‘Do I exercise enough? What do I eat?’ Other things to consider include making sure that you have a healthy weight for your height, get regular blood pressure testing by a doctor, choose a low-fat, high-fibre diet, and reduce or eliminate salt from your diet—that is a big ask, particularly in my case. These are all things that people need to examine.
If you are carrying a bit of weight, if you are not exercising, if you are drinking and smoking or if you have diabetes, you are really up there in the high-risk category. If you are aware of these things then it is beholden on you to take personal responsibility and start looking at how you can change your life. A determined effort to stop smoking, as well as exercising regularly and watching your diet and, if it comes down to it, taking the medication necessary, under medical advice, to help control high blood pressure will reduce the risk of stroke.
This is most certainly a serious matter in this country. Despite the work of the National Stroke Foundation there are still too many Australians who accept the risks or do not know what the risks are and therefore they will face problems. Through government support for research and education and through the good work of the National Stroke Foundation and other support groups within the community, this is a way that more people can become aware of the problems they face. As we know, there is now a very high percentage of people in this country who are above optimum weight. I am not saying they are obese or morbidly obese but they certainly could do something to reduce their weight and thereby reduce their risks.
Fortunately most people in this place have turned away from smoking, though there are still some who smoke. Perhaps there are more who have turned away from heavy drinking. This is a very healthy place, of course. You are paragons of virtue, one and all, in this place. It is important that everyone understands what the risks are and understands that it is a matter of confronting one’s own problems, of not waiting for the need to call 000 but deciding, ‘I’m not living as good and healthy a life as I could. It’s time for me to recognise that I am no longer the spring chicken I once was.’ In my case, I adjusted my lifestyle to make sure that those risks were eliminated. We must all give ourselves the best chance of living a healthy lifestyle to keep ourselves alive for the sake of our families and to reduce the strain on the health system, which is always an important responsibility.
About 60,000 Australians will suffer new or recurrent strokes this year. It is a tragedy. I commend the member for Shortland for bringing this motion before the House. One stroke is suffered every 10 minutes in Australia. It is a very serious problem for us. National Stroke Week ran from 13 September to 19 September. It was designed to raise awareness across communities throughout Australia about the challenges of fitness, health and vitality. I saw the FAST T-shirts being worn around my electorate. I was pleased to be present at the local Ipswich Stroke Support Group at their stall in Brassall shopping centre on 14 September. I am a very good friend of Peggy Frankish, who joined the Ipswich Stroke Support Group in 1997. She became the coordinator of the group in 1999 and has remained in that role in Ipswich ever since. Why did she do it? She did this because Peter, her husband of many, many years—a very fit and strong man; a strong Labor man; a unionist—had a stroke on 5 April 1996. This changed their lives forever. They have lived in their house on Whitehill Road in Eastern Heights in Ipswich for a long time. They have both been actively involved in the community for many years, but their lives changed forever after Peter’s stroke. They had to change their house, their community involvement, their family life and their recreational pursuits as a result of the debilitating aspects and the after-effects of Peter’s stroke.
Peggy is currently in the process of organising the Ipswich Stroke Support Group’s annual Christmas lunch and she expects dozens and dozens of people to be there. I commend her work in Ipswich. I have a lot of affection and love for Peggy. She is the sort of person that every community needs—the fact that she happens to be a member of my branch of the ALP in Ipswich is a good indication. I am the president of the Raceview Flinders branch of the ALP and have been for a long time. Peggy’s work has been recognised in Ipswich and she is an ambassador for Ipswich. Each year the stroke group have an outing at Christmas to celebrate. They have Christmas in July and they attend seniors’ outings throughout the year. They have a great rapport with the National Stroke Foundation. I commend the foundation for the wonderful work it does in raising awareness of this illness and injury and after-effects that people suffer from.
There is a common misconception that only older people are affected by stroke. However, about 20 per cent of stroke occurs in people under the age of 55 years. According to the figures, in the next 10 years more than 500,000 people will suffer a stroke. As Australia’s population changes and as we get older, we can expect an increase in the statistics. I have urged all residents locally, on radio, in the media and in print, to understand the FAST test. It is easy to remember. Face: check their face. Has their mouth dropped? Arms: can they lift both arms? Speech: is their speech slurred? Do they understand you when you talk to them? Time: time is critical; remember to call 000. I urge everyone in my community: if you are recovering from stroke, call Peggy. Her phone number is well known in the community. It is (07)32815423. She is well known and she is there for you. Her group does great work in our community and I thank her for her many years of service to the Ipswich community and family.
I am very pleased to speak on the motion by the member for Shortland. I understand the importance of raising awareness of stroke in Australia, as it is Australia’s second-biggest killer and a leading cause of disability, costing the health system approximately $2.14 billion each year. According to The Western Australian Chief Health Officer’s report 2010, the second most common cardiovascular disease condition reported in Western Australia is stroke, and the consequences of stroke tend to be more severe in regional areas. For the period 1997 to 2006, in my electorate of Forrest in the south-west health region the mortality rates for stroke were significantly higher than the WA state rate. Given this, I take a very personal interest in spreading information and raising awareness of stroke.
On a personal note, I would like to tell the story of a close friend and mentor, one of my constituents, Mrs Jenny Fry, who suffered a stroke in 2009. Jenny was one of the lucky ones, if you can call it that. She is lucky that, firstly, she survived her stroke and, secondly, that she can still walk and, albeit with some difficulty and frustration, talk. On the day of her stroke, Jenny had spent time at numerous meetings, which is normal. When she arrived home she picked up her cat and tried to unlock the door to let herself in. For some reason she found it difficult to open the door, so she put the cat down to try to concentrate on opening the door. Once she had done this she realised she really did not feel well, so she walked through the house and lay on her bed. Jenny’s husband, Peter, followed her into the bedroom and saw that she was not her normal self. He phoned 000 and an ambulance was sent immediately. This, though, was the last thing that Jenny remembered for two full days. Two whole days have been lost from her memory. She has no recollection of them and was not able to speak at all during that time. I know when I went to see her how frustrated she was.
After spending a fortnight in hospital, Jenny was allowed to return home, but to this day she endures the ongoing effects of her stroke. She finds it very difficult to communicate and is often unable to speak in the manner that she wants to or is used to. She was very articulate, very strong in her views and very good at letting everybody know what she thought. She now also suffers from TIAs, or mini strokes, where she has complete blackouts for a period of time. Because of this, Jenny has voluntarily given up her drivers licence. Often she cannot remember the names of long-term friends and sadly she has lost her motivation for carrying out stitch work, a previous passion of hers. Despite these effects, Jenny has no problem doing her and her husband’s banking and she is still a great card player. The one thing that I am truly grateful for is that she has not lost her sense of humour. On days when it is all a bit too much or when Jenny is having trouble with her speech, you can still always count on her having a smile and a laugh. This just shows her determination and positive attitude.
I am aware that there are insufficient services in the south-west of WA for those who have suffered a stroke. After her stroke, Jenny underwent speech therapy. There were no appropriate speech therapists available in the Bunbury region, so someone was sent from Perth. This leads me to the efforts of a local woman, Anne Jackson, who worked tirelessly for 12 months to establish the Bunbury and District Stroke Support Group. Unfortunately, Anne has since passed away, but the group continues to provide much appreciated support to stroke survivors, especially in regaining their self-confidence. The group also assists carers, family and friends to learn about adapting to the new situation that arises after strokes.
What worries me, and I am very pleased with this motion by the member for Shortland, is that Jenny Fry, a stroke sufferer herself, did not know how she could have prevented her stroke. Nor was she aware, until we notified her, of National Stroke Awareness Week 2010. If a former stroke sufferer is not aware of the work of the National Stroke Foundation, the effectiveness of the FAST campaign or the prevention of stroke then how can the average Australian be expected to know this information? That is why I, like the member for Shortland, will continue to raise the profile of National Stroke Awareness Week.
Stroke plays a major role in our society, and we have heard tonight how that will increase, whether we like it or not. I strongly support this motion by the member for Shortland in its aim to increase stroke awareness in Australia.
I thank the member for Shortland for raising this issue tonight in the Main Committee. As has already been discussed, it is a great national sadness that 60,000 people will suffer a stroke this year, which works out to one stroke every 10 minutes. It is of even greater sadness to know that this tragedy could be greatly diminished with increased education and more assistance to primary healthcare providers.
I join the member for Shortland in her praise of the National Stroke Foundation and their promotion of the FAST campaign to educate not just those most at risk but also families, friends and colleagues about warning signs and the quick reaction that can guarantee the best outcome. Ensuring that both young and old know to watch for the key signs of stroke will mean a quicker response time and less chance of sustained disability. Knowing the symptoms and noticing changes to the face, an inability of the sufferer to lift their arms, slurred speech or a lack of understanding of other speech will mean that grandchildren will recognise these signs if they are alone with grandparents, a wife will notice these changes in her husband and ensure they seek assistance as soon as possible, or perhaps a workmate or even a fellow shopper may be able to act FAST to actively enhance the health outcomes of people who are experiencing a stroke. I became aware of this program on the television only just last week. I was walking, I had my headphones on and I found it a very easy slogan to respond to and to recall: Face, Arms, Speech and a Timely response.
But early prevention initiatives are also really important. We do know that strokes can be prevented or at least the risk of them can be reduced. Contributing factors such as age or family history cannot be helped, but individuals can seek further assistance from their primary healthcare provider about lowering their cholesterol or blood pressure, which are both high-risk factors for strokes. Similarly, quitting smoking, while not always easy, is certainly a step towards reducing the risk of a stroke.