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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 9 Hansard (23 November) . . Page.. 2421 ..

MS FOLLETT (continuing):

There is one other issue that I want to raise while we are on Health, because it has been raised with me as an issue where the Government has yet to take appropriate action, and that is the treatment of people in the ACT suffering from hepatitis C. Mr Speaker, some time ago when the hepatitis C support group came to me to talk about their lack of access to the interferon trial, I did seek a briefing from Mrs Carnell on this issue and, to do her credit, I did eventually get a briefing. It took a lot longer than I had hoped; but, when I received a briefing on the issue, it only served to deepen my concern that people in the ACT with hepatitis C were being denied access to the only drug that may offer some chance of relieving this illness that they have. It is a drug that is in a trial phase, and it is a very dangerous drug, so the implementation of the trial is quite resource intensive. It is the case that we have never had a liver clinic here in the Territory and it would have been rather more complex for us to set up the interferon trial than it might have been in other States. However, the fact of the matter is, Mr Speaker, that, for whatever reason, our patients, alone, it seems, of patients all over Australia, are not getting this interferon therapy.

MR SPEAKER: You are into your second 10 minutes, Ms Follett.

MS FOLLETT (Leader of the Opposition) (8.14): Yes, I will not be long. I have written to the Federal Minister, Dr Lawrence, asking whether there is any way that the Commonwealth can assist the ACT to take part in this trial, as it was a national initiative that brought it about in the first place. I have not yet heard back from Dr Lawrence. Mr Speaker, I believe it is a matter of social justice and a fundamental matter of equity that patients in the ACT with hepatitis C do have access, as do other patients throughout Australia, to this drug. I know that that means the expenditure of some $300,000. I know that that is a lot to find in a stressed health budget. But I would urge the Government to do what it can to ensure that these services are provided. On the figures that I have seen, Mr Speaker, if interferon does have the effect on the ACT and region patients that it has had elsewhere, then the provision of interferon therapy could well save 300 future liver transplant operations. I think that, just on the cost-benefit analysis alone, it is worth doing; but, on humanitarian grounds and on grounds of equity, I think it is quite imperative.

MRS CARNELL (Chief Minister, Treasurer and Minister for Health and Community Care) (8.17): In the area of Health there have been lots of comments that have been raised tonight, but I think we can separate them into two lots. One is the critical care end of the spectrum - that is Woden Valley Hospital, about which specific comments have been made - and the other is community health, which includes areas such as mental health, Kippax Health Centre, QEII and Jindalee. That is the way that we looked at this health budget when we first started to put it together. When you look at the figures in Health - Mr Berry has left, but Mr Connolly has been Health Minister in the past - you will know that the area where the ACT has a problem is our critical care end. It is the area where we spend substantially more than the Commonwealth is willing to fund us to provide. In other words, we spend some 30 per cent more than national averages. Unfortunately for the ACT, 50 per cent of our financing comes from the Commonwealth. The other 50 per cent approximately comes from our own ratepayers and taxpayers. Therefore, there is no capacity to spend substantially more than national averages. There can be a bit of give and take in various areas, but not a whole lot.

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