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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 7 Hansard (29 June) . . Page.. 2944..

MS DUNDAS (continuing):

that there did not appear to be an increase in the services for women's health; that the status quo was being maintained; that, even though the government was putting on new health nurses and new breast care nurses and a lot of work is being done in the women's health area, things were just remaining static.

I hope that we will have targeted women's health programs into the future that will actually support women in the community and we will see these programs being taken up. One of the answers received through the estimates process was that one of the problems with increasing these services is the availability of staff to support these services. With new breast screening nurses coming on stream, hopefully that will improve into the future.

Mental health is another important part of the ACT health budget. I know that we will have a debate on this subject tomorrow, so I will be brief in saying that there was an interesting conversation going on through the estimates process in relation to how to support people by providing mental health services, be that through the number of beds made available and how they are being taken up or the difference between non-compulsory admissions and compulsory admissions and how they are being balanced by the hospital and how support is actually being given to people who enter those areas to stabilise them and enable them to return to the community.

Concerns were raised about staff recruitment and retention difficulties in the mental health area and how they have impacted on the mental health area's ability to deliver services to the community. I hope that these things will improve and we will not have a continuation of some of the concerns that we have had over the last year in relation to people with mental health problems.

MR STEFANIAK (8.48): It is interesting that, as Mr Smyth said, the government started with a promise before the last election that giving $6 million to the health area would fix the problems, because we are now about $150 million down the track and have a third as much expenditure again. I can recall similar noble aims in 1995 by the first Carnell government to improve the system and we had to have, I think, an extra $14 million in a second appropriation bill because of problems with the health system.

The health system, by its very nature, does cost a lot of money. It is one of the most crucially important areas of government and the demands on it will continue to grow because we have an ageing population. Twelve per cent of the population now is over 65 years of age. That is going to rise to 25 per cent by about 2020.

Health is always a difficult area, but from sitting through this estimates process and listening to the various debates and seeing the various figures in recent months in relation to health, I must admit that it is of concern to see where the system is going. I have spoken before in this place about the emergency department's response rates. Until recently, if you went in there with a basic ailment which was not life threatening, it would normally take about two hours-three hours at the most if it was on a busy Saturday when there were lots of football injuries. That was the case until about a year ago or so, certainly until about 2000.

I have had cause to go to the emergency department since about 1970. The first time I noticed a difference was in 2003 when I went there with the inside centre of my team

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