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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 7 Hansard (24 June) . . Page.. 2337 ..



Mental illness can be absolutely devastating and leave people vulnerable and fragile. People who are experiencing mental illness deserve our absolute compassion, support, care and love, if I can use that word in the Assembly in a budget debate. I have to say that I find it overwhelming when I am working with people with mental illness to think that we are not doing absolutely everything we can, because it is so painful to see the situation that people can get into. We also know that they can get out of it, quite often, and that if they have the support at the right time there is a greater likelihood that they will get through episodes of mental illness with reduced long-term effects, whether it be stigma or turning into a chronic illness.

I am also interested in discussing briefly the hospital situation. I have followed with interest the debate on the hospital and the ongoing discussion about whether we are having reduced health outcomes. I have to admit that I find it difficult sometimes to establish in my own mind actually what is going on here. We have this debate every year. It appears from the waiting lists that there have been reduced health outcomes, but then I hear the government's explanation and it, to some extent, deals with my concerns, although I have to say that I do feel at this stage of this debate that it does appear that there have been reduced health outcomes, if you take waiting lists as a measure.

The other point I want to make about the hospital is that we know that the HealthFirst contract is coming up again. I have been watching that and, in terms of the load on the hospital, I can see from the surveys done that it has reduced the load on accident and emergency, which is a good thing. Interestingly, I noticed also that there has been an increase in the 000 calls. Apparently, that is because often men will ring up and say that they have a bit of a twitch in their chest or something else, but they are not too worried about it and they would not bother to do anything about it but, because HealthFirst is there, they do something about it now. They make the call and HealthFirst says that they need to go to the hospital right away. That is an issue about gender and health that is quite interesting, I think.

The other thing about HealthFirst, as I said, is that it has reduced the load on accident and emergency. While we have such unmet need in terms of after-hours GP services that people can afford, or even just after-hour services, we know that it is going to be critical that accident and emergency be available, but also acknowledging the costs of that. It is really good to have a system like HealthFirst that will enable that load to be reduced where it is responsible for it to be reduced.

I just wanted to put that on the record. I am not sure what the government's thinking is about HealthFirst, but I know that the contract is coming up for renewal. I just want to say that I have only ever had really good responses from the community on that service.


(6.13): Probably one of the most important lines in this or any other budget is the health line. We can see that it is $462 million all up, which is a big slug out of what the ACT taxpayer pays for. Because it is about a large sum of money, but it is also about the health and wellbeing of everyone in the ACT, all our families and our children, we need to pay particular attention to what is happening in the health budget.

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