Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 1 Hansard (13 December) . . Page.. 279..
MR SMYTH (continuing):
Assembly, to make sure that we are all aware of what it is that is happening here. With that in mind, the government will support the bill.
MR SPEAKER: Thank you, Mr Smyth. So will the opposition. That's good.
MR SMYTH: Old habits die hard.
MS DUNDAS (6.09): I rise to briefly explain my support for this bill. The proposed urgent amendments to the Drugs of Dependence Act will help prevent delays in providing approved drugs to those who have been medically assessed as being in need of them, delays which have become pronounced over the holiday season. I believe that these amendments will be able to achieve this without overly compromising the system of checking and accountability that is already in place.
As I understand it, the office of the Chief Health Officer has, from time to time, issued approvals for doctors over the phone in order to achieve the same flexibility that this bill aims to introduce. In this sense, these amendments will legally recognise practices that have already been adopted by the department and health professionals, in response to the needs of patients and doctors. The issuing of approvals in this more flexible manner is still subject to rigorous guidelines, and the codes of medical practice, but recognises that situations of urgent medical need require a timely response.
It would be preferable, Mr Speaker, for the legislation developed in this Assembly to guide, rather than respond to, practice. However, in cases such as this, where practice has developed within a responsible medical framework to meet the needs of the community, I believe that legislative amendments are sometimes warranted. It is for these reasons that the Democrats will be supporting this bill, to facilitate its rapid passage through this Assembly.
MR STANHOPE (Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Health, Minister for Community Affairs and Minister for Women) (6.11), in reply: I thank members of the Assembly for their support. Indeed, the approach of the government is very much the approach that has just been outlined by Ms Dundas. In fact, as Ms Dundas has explained, what this particular amendment achieves is to regularise a practice that has developed in relation to the prescription of some drugs of dependence. It is deemed appropriate by the government, and by the department of health, that we do regularise it.
That decision was made on the basis of advice from the ACT Government Solicitor, in relation to the practice that had developed whereby some drugs of dependence-in circumstances of significant pressure or in other special circumstances-were prescribed by telephone. Just for the information of members, the circumstances that we are talking about concern the prescription of morphine for pain relief, primarily for people who are living with cancer, or methadone. I am advised that these prescriptions are almost invariably for morphine for cancer sufferers, methadone for people with a drug addiction and, in some instances, amphetamines, for children with attention deficit disorder.
There are circumstances in which it is very difficult for a client to make contact with a medical practitioner in the ordinary course of events, even when the client is on a long course of the drug, as they always are in each of the examples I have given. In those circumstances, if a supply of one of those drugs of dependence does end unexpectedly,