Mr KEVIN ANDERSON
(Tamworth) [6.49 p.m.]: This week is Parkinson's Awareness Week. As part of the week's events an important seminar for people living with Parkinson's disease was held today at Parliament House. It was officially opened by the Hon. Jillian Skinner, the Minister for Health. Approximately 160 people, including partners, families and carers, attended from across the State, including from my electorate of Tamworth. This is the first time that people from the regions have had an opportunity to attend. I pay tribute to those families and carers who play a critical role in the life of someone who is suffering from Parkinson's disease. It is a shattering experience to be told one has Parkinson's. Sadly, every hour of every day someone in Australia is diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.
Uncertainty and enormous challenges lie ahead. Part of the challenge with Parkinson's—like any disease—is seeking information and, ultimately, treatment. In terms of seeking information a number of groups, including Parkinson's NSW and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, post easy-to-read and up-to-date information on the web from which some of the information in this brief was sourced. Parkinson's disease occurs as a result of the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. The primary symptoms of Parkinson's disease are tremor, or trembling, in the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face, as well as rigidity or stiffness of the limbs and trunk, and slowness of movement including impaired balance and coordination.
As these symptoms become more pronounced, patients may have difficulty walking, talking or completing simple tasks. Parkinson's disease usually affects people over the age of 50. However, a staggering 10 per cent are under the age of 40. Early symptoms are subtle and occur gradually. In some people the disease progresses more quickly than in others. As the disease does and will progress, the shaking or tremor that affects the majority of patients may begin to interfere with daily activities. Other symptoms may include depression and other emotional changes, difficulty in swallowing, chewing and speaking, urinary problems or constipation, skin problems and sleep disruptions. Quality of life is severely affected.
At present there is no cure for Parkinson's disease. However, worldwide research is being conducted into new and improved treatments and medications that offer good reason to be optimistic about the capacity to minimise the impact of Parkinson's disease in the future. Those attending today's seminar in Parliament House were updated by a number of leaders in the field of research and development, including Dr Bryce Vissel, on his work at the Garvin Institute, and Dr Paul Silberstein, who provided the latest on deep brain stimulation for Parkinson's disease. The Health Minister advised that approval has been given for the establishment of a short-term scoping study with NSW Health to look at a range of areas, including asking that the scoping study give special consideration to the neurological nurse educator pilot program based at the Nowra Community Health Centre, how the position has worked, and the role of integrating and enhancing existing services.
Reports today from Parkinson's NSW indicate that neurological nurse educators provide support and services at the front line and, importantly, closer to home. Regional communities are hardest hit due to the lack of available specialist clinicians. When they are available, the distance travelled to reach them is often vast. That is an endemic problem and many regions, including the Tamworth electorate, are working hard to turn that around. Today's seminar heard that neurological nurse educators can and do play a vital role not only for Parkinson's but also for motor neurone disease. They become a vital link. They provide the connection and pathway to acute services and clinicians that over time ease the pressure on hospital emergency departments.
Nurses provide much-needed support and education in homes and aged care facilities. Independent living is a priority. It is a major bonus for people to be able to remain in the community because it reduces the anxiety associated with the treatment of Parkinson's, with the neurological nurse educator overseeing medication in the light of the limited access to specialists. I look forward to the outcomes of the scoping study. There is no doubt a primary community service such as this is much needed in the Tamworth electorate. If I can be so bold: The time to begin the push to have a community neurological nurse educator in our region is now.