Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 7 Hansard (22 September) . . Page.. 2001 ..
MR CORBELL: Mr Speaker, my question is to the Minister for Health and Community Care in his new location. On 21 January this year the Minister was reported in the Canberra Times as saying that when people decide they want out of the heroin cycle the health system should bend over backwards to help them, and that a four-week wait for placement on the methadone program was too long. The most recent Department of Health and Community Care activity report reveals that the number of methadone treatments per year has dropped from 350 in 1996-97 to 270 in 1997-98. Further, as at 5 August this year there were 45 people registered on the public program waiting list for methadone treatment, and the waiting period for placement on the program has blown out from 17 days to seven weeks. Can the Minister explain how the health system he administers is bending over backwards to assist addicts onto the methadone program?
MR MOORE: Mr Speaker, there is no doubt that the methadone program is not working as effectively as it should. I must say it is an embarrassment to me that we have a six- to seven-week waiting list at the moment. Currently there are 432 people receiving methadone treatment in the ACT and there is no doubt that there is further need. What I am doing about this is the critical question, I think, from Mr Corbell. You are probably aware that Dr James Bell from the Langton Centre in Sydney came down to review methadone use in the ACT. From that time on, Mr Corbell, I have been following a process and it is a process, I must say, that I find particularly frustrating because, where possible, I would like to see outcomes delivered in a much faster manner. However, because we are dealing with a range of very difficult situations I thought it appropriate to follow appropriate process.
While that was going on I funded some extra places in the methadone program on the basis that people also moved into the community program. The emphasis for change was to move people to the community program. My advice, as of today, is that 53 people are waiting to get on the methadone program. This is what creates the six- to seven-week waiting list. We are looking at this process to ensure that we get people involved in the community program.
If we simply continue to fund the public program, I believe we will have a continued increase in the waiting list. One of the ironies of a system like this is that, when you reduce the waiting list, more people see the opportunity and come on it, and I think that is a good thing. We have to make sure that we do not simply say, "We will fund more places and pour more and more money into it without getting better outcomes". I think we can get better outcomes if we involve more and more people in the community process. One of the suggestions has been that we must ensure there is no motivation to keep people on the public program instead of the community program.
Mr Berry: You get better outcomes when you give them access to methadone, Michael.
MR MOORE: Mr Speaker, it is very difficult to concentrate and answer the question.
MR SPEAKER: It is. I am just wondering why Mr Berry insists on interjecting when Mr Corbell is trying to listen to your reply. I think it is very discourteous.