Page 1051 - Week 04 - Wednesday, 16 March 2005

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Whilst it is a positive step to provide funding for projects such as the riding education program for a women’s motorcycle club, I do get concerned that some elements of financial management displayed by this government indicate that priorities in the allocation of funds need to be looked at in detail. I see the Treasurer beaming across the chamber there, and obviously he will have something to say about that. No doubt there are programs within the community that need encouragement, but is it not more crucial to look at the funding and logistical needs of, for example, breast cancer screening in the ACT as a higher priority, given that, if skin cancer is excluded, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women?

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare “managing breast cancer remains one of the major public health concerns among health professionals, policy makers and Australians in general.” It is also of great concern that, if we consider the incidence rate and mortality rate, the ACT has a higher rate of breast cancer incidences and mortality rate per capita in comparison with the rest of Australia. Surely, if I know that, and the minister would have far more information at his fingertips, why are we not making allowances? Why are we not covering the bases? If we know these things are occurring, why are we not putting the money in the right places? What is going on?

Breast cancer screening units in the ACT require further political support and the will of the minister to resource them adequately. The minister’s response in question time was that turnaround times for screening appointments was, at that point in time, three weeks. But my question concerning the Breast Cancer Australia Network was about the delay in breast cancer screening, and that in some cases patients were waiting up to six weeks to receive results. Are these patients lying? Are they wrong? I am just confused here, Minister. Perhaps you can shed some more light on it, which I am sure you will. They were not indicating a concern about appointment scheduling but, rather, the delay in receiving results back on their screening. Let us not forget that one of the reported cases was of an aggressive form of cancer. It is this concern that goes to the heart of the matter. These women are waiting to be told whether or not they have breast cancer and require further treatment. This raises the distinct concern about how these women are coping with the down time in waiting for results and how they are being assisted through this period. That is the other question one might ask.

Is it of concern to the minister that the period of waiting for definitive results on whether a client receiving breast screen services may impact upon how quickly any form of surgery could assist in treating possible life-threatening aggressive cancers? After question time the other day, I provided the minister with details of a case that is of concern to me. It was a specific example of the delay in identifying a case of an aggressive breast cancer and the need to see this person admitted for surgery. Given that this person has identified that a history of breast cancer exists in her family, should not such information be given more credence and further consideration be given to the case?

The minister must admit that there are failings in the system of screening, of referral and, ultimately, of scheduling for those who require surgery to remove aggressive cancers. The minister did say that it was “a staffing problem” but, if Wagga can do it, if Wollongong can do it, why not Canberra? I find it appalling that this woman, given the heightened nature of her case, was not given her results much sooner. The delays all seem to revolve around the lack of staff, from radiologists who read the mammograms to

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