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Motion: Consider and Note - Report of the Joint Select Committee on Preventative Health Care

Mrs Armitage (Launceston) - Mr President, I thank the member for Murchison for bringing this forward, and the other members of the committee for the work they have undertaken.

Preventive health is very important. If we can keep people out of hospitals it is certainly the way to go. We all know that hospitals are very unhealthy places to be and many infections are picked up when people go to hospital, so it is of great concern.

I will only go through a few of the areas that have been mentioned; many have already been covered by the members for Murchison and Hobart, so I am not going to spend a lot of time going over it.

I will only go through a few of the areas that have been mentioned; many have already been covered by the members for Murchison and Hobart, so I am not going to spend a lot of time going over it.

One of the things with preventive health is that it is not always easy to make change. I know that as much as anyone. If you are going to have a cup of tea, it is easier to have a few biscuits rather than a bit of fruit. How often do we do that? We have a cup of tea, we have a chocolate or a few biscuits. I must admit, if I go down to the Members' Lounge and have a cup of tea, I would not have a cup of tea without having a couple of biscuits. It is interesting, looking at sugar addiction, which the member for Rosevears brought up previously, and reading about sugar addiction, it says it should be treated as a form of drug abuse. It is widely thought to affect the brain in a similar way to cocaine. Now a new study has suggested that people addicted to sugar should be treated in the same way as other drug abusers. According to researchers from the Queensland University of Technology, excessive sugar consumption increases the dopamine levels in a similar way to other drugs such as cocaine.

Ms Rattray - So it is not just a sweet tooth any more. It is an addiction.

Mrs Armitage - Well, it is an addiction and that is the thing with preventive health: while people may wish to change, it is not that easy. It is not that easy to give up things you like, such as chocolate. I am probably just as bad an offender as many people.

Mr Dean - I have just given up butter and fats and now I am back into them again. They are telling me how they are good for me.

Mrs Armitage - Absolutely. I have just taken butter back up again, I must admit. The real butter and eggs and bacon for breakfast are now much better for you. The full-fat milk is better for you than the skinny milk.

Ms Forrest - It is all about moderation though.

Mrs Armitage - It is about moderation, you are quite right, but it is not easy. I can accept that particularly for people who have not had the education and the understanding, it is not an easy thing. It is a hard habit to break, but it is something that we really need to do. That is why it is great to have this report. I hope, like the other members, that the Government takes notice of the recommendations and findings in this report because it is not easy to make change.

The member for Windermere moved a motion today regarding sick leave. That is something, too, about preventive health. Workplace stress is something we are seeing more and more of now, and we have to ask ourselves how difficult it is, how many people on sick leave are suffering from workplace stress and do not claim workers compensation because they do not want to be labelled with having stress or anxiety from the workplace - so they might take a week off on sick leave. I do not think anything has been undertaken to see whether people on sick leave are actually suffering from stress or other illnesses. There are many areas we really need to look at.

I notice in here, 'Capacity to Meet the Needs of the Population. Tasmanian health care providers face challenging socio-economic, cultural and environmental conditions that present barriers to achieving optimal health for all Tasmanians. This challenge is exacerbated by Tasmania's small and highly dispersed population.' It is difficult, particularly for the people who are disadvantaged in some of the remote areas. It is not always easy and if something is not easy it just does not get done.

The personal health records is an interesting one, the rebranded My Health Record, which has been pushed fairly hard politically. More than $1 billion has been spent already, with patient participation being opt-out now rather than opt-in. It previously attracted only 2.3 million people nationwide, with only 65 400 health summaries uploaded. It needs to be pushed and used a lot more, particularly to make sure that nationwide it does not matter where you travel in Australia, that someone can access your records and know what medication you are on and what your health situation is. We have incredible technology available and the member for Hobart was speaking about e-health. That is so important, particularly for remote people.

One of the things we need to do - and I do not believe it is happening at the moment - is that our public hospitals need to be willing to share with the private sector the results from pathology and radiology. My understanding is they do not. If you are private practitioner and a patient comes to you and needs an MRI or some particular test that has already been undertaken in the public sector, those results are not shared with the private sector and that patient then has to have those tests again. Things such as that need to be sorted out because it all comes down to making everything cheaper. For someone who has had tests in a hospital to have to go into the private sector and have those tests again, not only is it bad for that patient - and I am not quite sure if you have an MRI or how may X-rays it is, but I know if you put the equivalent of how many X-rays an MRI or a CT is, it is a lot and to have that again purely because the public sector will not share is quite concerning.

Ms Forrest - That is not quite true because the public hospitals do share their records.

Mrs Armitage - I can assure you they do not share pathology or radiology reports.

Mr Valentine - When I broke my back and had to do osteopathy they would not give me those slides to take to my osteopath. I would have had to have bought them. It was going to cost a very significant amount.

Mrs Armitage - There are a lot of different areas we need to look at. Going to another area of the terms of reference: air quality. Launceston in particular has always had problems with air quality. The wood heater buyback scheme was there for many years and took a lot of wood heaters and improved the quality of the air in Launceston. However, in terms of the problems with the air quality, as Launceston is a river valley it experiences temperature inversion and the rise of particulate matter is harmful to people with lung problems. We have an ongoing problem in Launceston with the inversion layer and air quality.

The current focus on treatment rather than prevention is not the way to go. As has been said, Health could consume the whole budget. It has been made quite obvious many times when various ministers of every calibre have said, 'You could give as much money as you like to health and you would still need more'. It is important we look at prevention rather than looking at solving the problem.

I am going to finish on an article that was in The Advocate by the Australian Medical Association's Tim Greenaway. He says:

The Australian Medical Association and the Tasmanian Council of Social Service say preventative health must be a key focus of Thursday's state budget. The state ranks amongst the nation's worst for rates of chronic disease, obesity and smoking. Its population suffers poor nutrition, low exercise levels and risky alcohol consumption.

The Government is yet to release its long-awaited Healthy of Tasmania strategy but has set the deliberately ambitious goal of becoming the nation's healthiest state by 2025.

TasCOSS chief executive, Kym Goodes, said it followed that preventative health should be the centrepiece of the 2016-2017 Budget. 'It will be a demonstration of bold leadership by the Hodgman Government if they make the appropriate funding allocation to this strategy', she said. 'This should not be a half-hearted investment because the long-term gains to our overall budget position is considerable. This could be one of the greatest legacies of this Government'.

AMA state president, Tim Greenaway, said action on preventative health had been too slow and echoed the call for targeted funding. 'One of the major concerns we have with the minister is he has an ingrained belief that individuals make choices for which they must be held accountable. That is understandable and I agree with it to some extent, but … we need to improve opportunities for disadvantaged people to make better choices.'

I do hope the Government takes note of the report that is before us. I thank the members of the committee. I am pleased to see it was a joint House committee and I hope the Government makes those choices in the budget on Thursday.

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