Senate debates

Tuesday, 28 November 2023


Health Care: Multiple Sclerosis

7:41 pm

Photo of Wendy AskewWendy Askew (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

It's very hard to follow that. Tonight I'm excited, though, to speak about the opening of the MS Plus Wellbeing Centre in Hobart earlier this year. As a Tasmanian senator and co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Multiple Sclerosis, I was honoured to be invited by MS Plus to open Hobart's wellbeing centre. This is the second such facility MS Plus has opened in Australia, which is fitting because Greater Hobart has the highest incidence of MS in Australia. The centre will provide invaluable access to services for Tasmanians living with multiple sclerosis and neurological conditions, enhancing their lives and supporting their family members and carers. My eldest brother, Peter, was diagnosed with MS in 1979 when he was a young man in his early 20s. Through my family's experience and my parliamentary work involving MS, I understand just how important facilities like the Hobart wellbeing centre are.

MS Plus wellbeing centres help people to keep doing what is important to them. That might be to keep working for longer, improve their strength and movement, stay connected within their communities or simply ensure they're feeling their best. These goals are met through individual exercise physiology, physiotherapy and dietary programs, as well as employment and workplace support, health professional coordination and peer support. The best bit is that many of those appointments can now be accessed at the centre's one comfortable and central location in the middle of Hobart.

MS Plus wellbeing centres are really like a one-stop shop for neurological support. Hobart resident Meg Denham has lived with MS for more than a decade, and she shared her experiences at the opening event on what a difference the centre has already made to her. 'It's really nice to have a place that's set up for neurological things,' Meg told us, highlighting the specialist equipment like hand bikes and equipment that she could use while sitting in her wheelchair. 'The old idea that you should just rest and do nothing is no good at all. Moving is the thing that keeps you going,' she said. And she's right. But it's not just about keeping moving for Meg. She also spoke about the benefit of having access to multiple health professionals at the one site. Meg said she feels like she's part of a community that's 'always looking out for you' and that 'you can talk to'. They're someone to be a shoulder to lean on when things are getting tough and also someone to laugh about the silly things that happen, because all those things happen with MS.

In addition, the Hobart wellbeing centre complements the wonderful work of the Menzies Institute for Medical Research through its Multiple Sclerosis Research Flagship program. The MS flagship was created in 2016 as an integrated research pipeline, bringing together experts in scientific discovery, clinical understanding, public health, health economics and implementation research. In just seven years, this collaboration has already amplified MS research at Menzies and beyond, with research building a better understanding of this condition both here and around the world. This knowledge has been shared widely already through Menzies Institute's Understanding Multiple Sclerosis massive open online course, better known as a MOOC. I can't wait to see what the next few years bring.

Some of this research about MS prevalence was published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry in 2022. Authors Steve Simpson-Yap, Leigh Blizzard, Ingrid van der Mei and Bruce Taylor, from the MS flagship, and Robert Atvars, from the Royal Hobart Hospital, found that those with MS were living longer and there had been a reduction in deaths, which could be attributed to improved MS health care and the implementation of disease-modifying therapies. However, they also found that the greater Hobart region continued to record the highest prevalence and incidence rates of MS in Australia. More cases are being diagnosed now, with the article highlighting MS risk factors such as reduced sun exposure, which can lead to vitamin D deficiency; higher rates of obesity; and smoking or exposure to cigarette smoke. Tasmania's prevalence of MS is around double that of Queensland, which correlates with our knowledge that MS cases increase the further people live from the equator. This risk factor impacts thousands of Tasmanians and has far-reaching impacts for our state's health and allied services. But, with research like that being undertaken by MS flagship, we're gaining a better understanding about this condition all the time.

When Peter was diagnosed with MS almost 45 years ago there were no treatment options. He could simply learn to live with MS and manage the condition. Now we have immunotherapies which reduce disease activity in the central nervous system and lessen the frequency and severity of relapses for people with MS and we have services like the MS Plus Wellbeing Centre which help those with MS live a stronger, healthier and happier life.


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