House debates

Monday, 15 June 2020


Health, Aged Care and Sport Committee; Report

12:27 pm

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport I present the committee's report entitled Walking the allergy tightrope: addressing the rise of allergies and anaphylaxis in Australiatogether with the minutes of proceedings

Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).

by leave—Today I present the report of the Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport entitled Walking the allergy tightrope: addressing the rise of allergies and anaphylaxis in Australia. Australia has been called the world's allergy capital because of the high prevalence rates of allergies in Australia, and it's on the rise. In fact, it is estimated that allergies now affect one in five Australians. It's not a title any nation would aspire to, because, while allergies can be mild for some people, for many others they can be both life-threatening and extremely debilitating.

During this inquiry we heard from those with direct experience living with allergies, from those who have lost loved ones to Australians who live every day in trepidation either for themselves or for their children. We heard of lives that were forever shaped by the shadow of allergies and anaphylaxis. That's why this inquiry was so important, and I want to start by thanking all of those who, either through their submissions or at the public hearings, shared their experience—particularly the mums, who seem to do the heavy lifting when it comes to advocacy. Their testimony moved the committee and made us more resolute in understanding the importance of our task.

Allergic disease includes several different conditions, the most common of which are food allergies and drug allergies. Other allergies, including eczema, hay fever, hives, allergic asthma, insect bite and sting allergies and latex allergy, were also considered by the committee. Anaphylaxis is the most severe form of allergic reaction and is life threatening if not immediately treated. The reason for the rise in allergies is the subject of intense research and speculation, but there is no one answer or even agreed certainty about the causes. Theories range from the germ hypothesis—have we sanitised our lives to the point where we have weakened the maturing of our immune systems?—through to vitamin D deficiency. Our experience in seeing the growth of allergies is not globally unique and does seem to be more pronounced in wealthier nations like our own.

Australia is currently a world leader in allergy research, but further research is necessary in order to understand and treat allergic disease. This report recommends the establishment of a national centre for allergies and anaphylaxis to undertake research on current and emerging allergies and to establish a national register for anaphylaxis and drug allergies.

The report makes 24 recommendations in total about how we can improve the support given to people who are living with allergies. In addition to increasing our research capacity and knowledge base, some of our key priorities include improving access to specialists and training for the medical workforce to overcome the unacceptably long delays faced by many individuals and families in receiving diagnosis and treatment. Too many Australians, including infants, are waiting months and in fact years for the most basic assessment by a specialist in the public health system.

The second priority is improving financial support for those with severe allergies and their carers, including by ensuring appropriate MBS items for food challenges, access and carer payments. Third is improving food labelling. So many times we heard from parents about the nightmare of simply going to a supermarket when your child's life could be at risk from one misstep in the shopping trolley. Better food labelling is basic but vital. The fourth is addressing the occasional but worrying shortages that Australians face in the supply of EpiPens, a product that is the first line of defence for someone experiencing an anaphylactic attack. The fifth is ensuring support for the treatment of insect and other allergies, including tick allergies and, unique to our country, jack jumper ant allergies. Finally is better management of drug allergies, including ensuring that drug allergies are not being overdiagnosed, resulting in constraining treatment options for patients.

During the inquiry many individuals, especially parents of children living with food-related allergies, advocated for the increased availability of food immunotherapy. This is an area that will benefit from further research in Australia, and this report recommends that clinical research be undertaken with the aim of being able to offer well-understood and safe immunotherapy in the future.

I would like to thank the individuals and organisations who took the time to write submissions and appear at public hearings. The quality of those contributions was outstanding. I hope the recommendations in this report will lead to changes that assist people living with allergic disease to have a better quality of life in the future. I also want to thank the Minister for Health, who is in the chamber today with us, for referring this matter to the committee. We appreciated the opportunity to make what I hope is an important inquiry.

Finally, my sincere thanks to all committee members for their engagement with this inquiry. I am especially grateful to several committee members who contributed their own medical expertise and knowledge of this topic, including our deputy chair, the member for Macarthur. I particularly want to acknowledge the role of the member for Higgins, whom we were fortunate to have join the committee for this inquiry. Dr Allen is one of Australia's foremost experts on allergies, and her role during this inquiry was invaluable. I also want to thank committee staff Joel Bateman, Rebecca Gordon, Tegan Scott and Tamara Palmer for their outstanding support to the committee during this inquiry. I commend this report to the House and hope it does lead to meaningful change for the growing numbers of Australians who suffer with dreadful problems associated with allergies in this country. I commend the report to the House.

12:34 pm

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Minister for Health) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I want to thank and acknowledge the member for North Sydney, the member for Macarthur, the member for Higgins and all of the members of the House of Representatives Health Committee, and just to acknowledge that this report on allergies and anaphylaxis will be read with great interest. The goal is to take the recommendations to look at how they can be applied and to provide Australians who have allergies with greater support, greater care and greater attention going forward. I think this is an immensely important contribution made on a bipartisan basis. It represents the best of the House of Representatives and the parliamentary system in action. It's about caring for those Australians and their families who are suffering from allergies.

12:35 pm

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I cannot underestimate the importance of this report of the Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport entitled Walking the allergies tightrope: addressing the rise of allergies and anaphylaxis in Australia. I would like to thank the minister for referring this important topic to our team. As the deputy chair, I would like to thank very much the chair, the member for North Sydney, and, in particular, I'd like to thank the member for Higgins for contributing her enormous expertise to this inquiry.

It gives me great pleasure to speak on this report. I would like, first of all, to record my thanks to our wonderful secretariat—led by the formidable Rebecca Gordon as the inquiry secretary together with Joel Bateman, as the community secretary, and Tamara and the rest of the team—for their hard work in facilitating the inquiry and dealing with a very complex health issue in a very comprehensive and all-encompassing manner. I thank them. I would like to also thank my other parliamentary colleagues on the committee for their contributions.

I'm pleased to stand here today and assist in the handing down of this bipartisan report which really does set out, in a way that few other parliamentary reports I've seen have done, a very systematic approach to the increasing issue of allergy and anaphylaxis in Australian society. I have a grandchild who is prone to severe anaphylaxis due to nuts. I have been made increasingly aware of the effect on the family of what is really a quite difficult problem now that she's of school age. We've outlined over 20 recommendations. I won't go through them all, but they are all very important. The most important, of course, is that of committing more research in a comprehensive and structured way to the issue of allergy and anaphylaxis. It would not have been possible for the committee to formulate these positions and recommendations without the work of many, many people and the many organisations that contributed throughout our inquiry and provided lots of submissions. I would like to thank each and every person who made a contribution to our inquiry.

As a paediatrician, I of course recognise how important this issue is for families. I would like to thank all the families who've made submissions, and I would like to assure them that we will continue to fight for this issue and for recognition of this issue. I'd like to thank, in particular, Ms Maria Said from Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia and her team, who made comprehensive submissions to the committee. I would like to personally thank Professor Connie Katelaris for her unceasing work with allergy, anaphylaxis and, in particular, severe eczema and for her contribution to the granting of PBS listing for dupilumab for severe eczema.

With allergies and anaphylaxis on the rise in our society, the committee has developed a list of recommendations, as outlined by the committee chair. The first recommendation, for the establishment of a Commonwealth national centre of allergies and anaphylaxis, as I've said, is the most important one. I believe such a national institution would be able to institute more comprehensive research and ensure that we have the best practice nationwide in our management.

I commend the report and the work of the committee to the parliament and encourage the government and the minister to take heed of the recommendations laid out herein before the House today.

12:39 pm

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the House take note of the report.

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.