Page 3553 - Week 11 - Thursday, 22 September 2005

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Bird flu—government preparedness

MR MULCAHY: My question is directed to the Minister for Health. I refer to media reports on the outbreak of bird flu in Indonesia. Will the minister inform the Assembly, in broad terms, of the state of preparedness by ACT health and emergency authorities should an outbreak of bird flu occur in Canberra? Will the minister also indicate what advice has been provided to ACT medical practitioners in relation to the method and location of treatment of patients who display symptoms of this deadly virus?

MR CORBELL: At this stage there is no indication of any concern in Australia in relation to any suspected cases of bird flu. The ACT participates in national response arrangements in relation to any potential epidemic or pandemic. We do that, primarily, through our cooperation with commonwealth and other state and territory authorities. We are represented by the Chief Health Officer in that regard.

A comprehensive national response strategy is in place. At their most recent meeting, health ministers agreed to a national pandemic plan. That pandemic plan would guide the actions of individual state and territory governments were a pandemic to occur. A pandemic is clearly an extremely serious situation. At this stage, that issue is not in any way being raised or brought to my or other ministers’ attention in Australia. I am kept informed by my Chief Health Officer on the state of preparedness and alert in Australia in relation to any potential outbreak of such a flu here.

I understand that the Australian government continues to monitor the situation in Indonesia—it is kept in contact through the normal channels—and that the Australian government would advise the state and territory governments should there be a requirement to upgrade our preparedness or alert status to respond to any particular outbreak of this very dangerous flu.

MR MULCAHY: Mr Speaker, I have a supplementary question. What is the current bed capacity in Canberra hospitals for patients with infectious diseases? What advice has been provided to medical practitioners in relation to the method and location of treatment of patients who display symptoms?

MR CORBELL: We have mechanisms in place for advising medical practitioners as and when that is required. My most recent advice is that, at this stage, no such steps have been required. But there are mechanisms and channels in place to inform the medical community, particularly general practitioners, should there be the potential of this disease breaking out in any community such as Canberra. That mechanism is in place for doctors to be advised of what they should be aware and conscious of when they are seeing patients.

In relation to our hospital capacity, we have a limited number of negative air pressure rooms in the Canberra Hospital, which are designed to address the isolation of patients. But it is a limited number. That is no different from hospitals in many other places around the country.

In the event of a pandemic, the disaster response and the national response mechanisms are quite comprehensive. If members are interested in understanding the complexity and

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