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13 April 2018
Topics: ACT and South Australia agreeing to sign the National Health Reform Agreement; medicinal cannabis; mandatory reporting; endometriosis
I’m delighted with the outcomes of today’s COAG health minister’s meeting. Perhaps most significantly, South Australia and the ACT have agreed to sign on to the National Health Reform Agreement, that’s the hospitals agreement.
That will mean significant new funding for both, and it’s a very important step on top of the fact that Western Australia and New South Wales have already signed that agreement. And we’re making very good progress with other states and territories. So this is a major step forward and a major breakthrough. South Australia and the ACT have agreed to sign the National Health Reform Agreement.
The next thing is under the very, very capable chairing and leadership of Meegan Fitzharris from the ACT, there was agreement of all states and territories to provide faster access to medicinal cannabis. There will be the adoption of the New South Wales Commonwealth trial, and that will now be spread to all states and territories.
So there will be a one-stop shop for accessing medicinal cannabis. This means that the decision as to whether or not to prescribe is rightly in the hands of medical professionals, but once that decision is made, access will then be provided within what we expect to be a 48-hour period. Indeed, in many cases, as low as 24 hours.So now time should not be a matter of concern once a doctor has made his or her prescription.
That’s the critical thing. Better access, faster access to medicinal cannabis for Australian patients. I would note that all states and territories made the point that it is the doctors themselves who are the only people that should be determining whether or not to prescribe any medicine, including medicinal cannabis, that we have all very strong reaffirmed our commitment to the primacy, the control, the decision-making rightly of medical professionals for medical decision-making.
So, that’s their decision. Our job as health leaders around the country is to ensure that there are no barriers to rapid patient access if a doctor prescribes this medicine or any other medicine. The next area of important agreement is actually about the mental health of registered health professionals, of doctors and nurses and other health professionals.
Until now, there have been significant unintended barriers to doctors and nurses seeking the appropriate mental health treatment because of mandatory reporting requirements. What has been agreed is a system that will both protect patients, but critically, remove barriers to doctors and nurses receiving and accessing the mental health treatment that they want.
Removing barriers whilst protecting patients with important provisions, to ensure that there is not practice which is detrimental to those patients. But it’s critical. It has been developed in conjunction with the medical professionals and the final legislation will be developed in consultation with the states and territories and medical professionals. But at the end of the day, the clear message is the barriers to doctors and nurses accessing mental health are going to be removed. And that’s critical to accessing mental health treatment.
Finally, and this is a deep personal, passionate cause. There’s been national agreement to support the National Action Plan on Endometriosis. Endometriosis is an underreported issue, although I am very pleased to have seen a number of important cases highlighted recently. Some of our leading swimmers, some of our leading performers, have talked about the agony that they have been through and the sheer, profound impact of endometriosis on their lives.
As a Commonwealth, we issued a national apology for the long-term historic failure right across the policy and medical worlds to acknowledge the importance, significance and prevalence of endometriosis. We announced that we would be developing a National Action Plan and we’ve also announced $2.5 million of Commonwealth research funding.
Now however, all states and territories have committed to working with the Commonwealth on improving knowledge, awareness, and treatment of endometriosis and cooperating on the National Action Plan. So, I just want to acknowledge and congratulate all of the states and territories, particularly to acknowledge the fact that Victoria has taken some very important steps.
And all up, I think today’s an outstanding day, firstly for our hospitals, secondly for patient access, thirdly for the mental health of doctors and nurses, and fourthly, as I say, at a deeply important personnel level, for the health and awareness of women in relation to endometriosis.
Minister, a lot of women when they’re seeking endometriosis treatment, they struggle to get a diagnosis. It can often take almost a decade. How much of the National Action Plan is going to be about educating the medical profession?
So, the National Action Plan on Endometriosis will focus on diagnosis, treatment and education. And the education is not just for victims, but also for the medical profession. I’ve had a tremendous response, both from the AMA and in particular the Royal Australasian College of General Practitioners, who have to do a lot of the early diagnosis.
They are very, very supportive of better awareness, better information for doctors, so as they can identify some of the symptoms earlier. Our task now, through the action plan and through the work of the professionals, is to ensure that the doctors have the information that they need to assist with each diagnosis. And that patients, women who are suffering endometriosis and who may not know that’s what they have, have the confidence to seek that diagnosis and not to suffer in silence.
And just on medicinal cannabis, there’s many families around the country who’ve ended up in the criminal system because they’ve been seeking treatment for themselves or a loved one and they’ve had to go to the criminal sector in order to get that treatment. What’s your message to them?
So, the message is very clear, and that is the states control the legal system and I wouldn’t speculate on individual cases. But the issue in relation to, if doctors have been reluctant to prescribe because of time concerns, those time concerns will be removed and if patients have had trouble accessing once a doctor has made a prescription, those barriers will now be removed.
We’ve already seen, in New South Wales, the time for prescriptions drop dramatically from two months to two days, and that system, the New South Wales Commonwealth system, which to his credit has been led by Brad Hazzard, will now go around the country. And this is an important day for patient access.
Minister, could you tell us what happened with the smoking proposal from WA?
So that has been referred. It’s primarily a matter for the states because these issues are considered by the states. So, the states have all agreed that that will be referred for consideration by what’s called AHMAC (Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council), which is the senior executive. So that will go off for further study.
Okay, thank you very much.
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