REGIONAL CANCER SERVICES
Matter of Public Importance
Mr MATT BROWN
(Kiama) [6.43 p.m.]: I ask the House to note as a matter of public importance regional cancer services. There is probably no Australian, let alone any member in this Chamber, who has not been touched personally by at least one story of a family member or that of a friend who has battled with cancer. Some of those people have survived and others have not. Their stories are heart wrenching and heartfelt and affect many families right across our nation. I have always lived in a regional area. I grew up in Kiama on the beautiful New South Wales South Coast. Families decide to live in regional areas because of the lifestyle, job opportunities, or to simply be near their family and support network. In the past a lot of medical services provided in the city have not been available to the regions. People from the regions have had to travel some distance to get the best services that are available.
As a young boy I had to travel to the only hospital in Sydney, and in the Southern Hemisphere, that provides open-heart surgery, for treatment for a hole in my heart. Likewise a number of my constituents have to travel some distance to have treatment in their battle with cancer and that has been of great concern to them. I was pleased when the Prime Minister, together with the Minister for Health (Cancer) representing the New South Wales Government, came to the Shoalhaven to announce the establishment of a new purpose-built Shoalhaven Regional Cancer Centre. The news was enormously well received. Part of the community that I represent has worked tirelessly for years in raising money towards, in particular, a linear accelerator as part of the cancer centre. The local community raised in excess of $1 million towards the centre. I applaud the local community and congratulate them on their fundraising efforts.
The Shoalhaven has a growing population. Cancer rates across the State also continue to grow. In 2008, 254 cancer patients from the South Coast and Shoalhaven collectively spent more than 5,000 hours travelling a total cumulative distance of approximately 400,000 kilometres for radiotherapy services. That is clearly an added stress for those patients during what is already a stressful time for them and their families. This centre came about as a result of a dear friend of mine, the late Dr Ray Cleary about whom I have spoken in this Chamber before, who treated his wife Zeta at the time. Unfortunately Dr Cleary passed away from cancer. I can only imagine how proud he would be to see his efforts come to fruition. He was a strong supporter of the Australian Labor Party. Dr Cleary would have been incredibly proud to see both the State Labor Government and the Federal Labor Government delivering this centre. It is fantastic that this centre has been established in our area.
When the centre becomes operational more residents will have access to local cancer services and avoid travelling such distances. As part of the new centre there will be a linear accelerator, two radiotherapy bunkers, eight additional chemotherapy beds, radiotherapy treatment planning equipment such as a CT scanner, and a ten room patient and carer accommodation facility. That means that once operational the centre will be able to treat up to an additional 414 radiotherapy patients. This will be the first local provision of radiotherapy services at Shoalhaven District Hospital. The centre will take a multidisciplinary cancer care approach, which is so important. It will accommodate a range of clinical specialties, including medical oncology, clinical haematology, radiation oncology, palliative care, surgical oncology, cancer psychosocial services and cancer rehabilitation services.
The centre will be part of an important network with the Randwick Cancer Centre, based at Prince of Wales Hospital, St George Cancer Centre and the Illawarra Regional Cancer Care Centre. This will mean that vital access for residents who need more complex and highly specialised care, such as child adolescent cancer services and gynaecological oncology. This proven network model of cancer services delivery will be a huge boost for patients on the South Coast. The networking of cancer services across the entire centre in the Shoalhaven will also mean support for quality research, education and teaching for the local cancer care workforce.
New South Wales is already performing very well with its cancer survival rates among the highest in the world. Figures released by the Cancer Institute in December show that cancer death rates have fallen by 13.8 per cent in men and 7.9 per cent in women for all ages over the past decade. But we know cancer rates continue to rise and that is why it is so important for this facility to be located in our region. It is a sizeable facility costing $33.8 million, $10 million of which was provided by the Keneally Government, $23.8 million by the Rudd Government and $1 million by the local community. This is a real boost and I congratulate all those involved. I wish all cancer patients the very best in their fight against this insidious disease.
Mrs SHELLEY HANCOCK
(South Coast) [6.50 p.m.]: At the outset, I commend the member for Kiama for bringing to the House this important matter to the residents of the Shoalhaven. I commend him for his comments in particular about Dr Ray Cleary whose efforts precipitated the beginning of a very long journey in the Shoalhaven by residents to raise in excess of $1 million. It was his experience in escorting his wife, Zita Cleary, during her radiotherapy treatment of breast cancer that he realised that the exhausting journey day after day, week after week, could be avoided in the Shoalhaven if we had our own linear accelerator. Everything began with Dr Ray Cleary and his efforts to ensure that funds were raised in the community and to ensure that we received our fair share of resources in the area, and we have. In a regional area like the Shoalhaven, it is acknowledged that these travelling times have been an issue for many people.
Whilst the member for Kiama recognised Dr Ray Cleary, it is important to note that when Dr Ray Cleary tragically passed away, the baton changed to Zita Cleary. She undertook to precipitate all efforts in the community towards a huge fundraising effort. I pay tribute to many people in the community, but I cannot name them all. I commend first Dr Ray Cleary and his wife, Zita. I cannot discount the efforts of former mayor of Shoalhaven, Greg Watson, who set up the Linear Accelerator Committee, the LINAC Committee, as it is known, because he drove that project during his time as mayor. I commend also the current mayor, Paul Green, who has been a passionate advocate for the linear accelerator in the Shoalhaven. Indeed, all councillors on Shoalhaven City Council were energetic and dedicated towards establishment of this facility. I pay tribute also to Paul Dean, the former assistant general manager of the Shoalhaven City Council, who was a great lobbyist for the project and must be acknowledged this evening. I congratulate also the local service clubs and volunteer organisations, in particular the Lions clubs, which took on an advocacy role for the linear accelerator.
The Cancer Council of New South Wales for the southern region was a very strong advocate for this linear accelerator. Many times in this place I have quoted the Cancer Council statistics on people opting out of radiotherapy treatment because of the distances to be travelled and dislocation from families. It was of great concern that many people now choose not to undergo radiotherapy treatment when it was vital to cure them of cancer. Dr Phil Clingan, a senior cancer services clinician in Wollongong, provides wonderful support. He has worked tirelessly for cancer patients in Wollongong—and I note the member for Wollongong, who is in the Chamber tonight, has been a fierce advocate for Shoalhaven services also. I commend the Shoalhaven community for their efforts in raising more than $1 million.
In an area like Shoalhaven that is no mean feat. My electorate is not a wealthy area and the community achieved this funding by selling raffle tickets and arranging dances, balls and other fundraising activities. The climax was the welcomed announcement on Sunday of the linear accelerator and the cancer care centre for the Shoalhaven, with all the facilities outlined by the member for Kiama. Cancer is beyond politics. I join with the member for Kiama tonight in welcoming the Prime Minister's announcement. I know that he has been criticised for not attending some of the linear accelerator committee meetings. I, too, have been unable to attend some meetings but I know he is as committed as I am to this cause and the establishment of this facility.
The member for Kiama spoke eloquently about the effect of cancer on families. I have firsthand experience. My daughter was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease in 2005 after graduating from her law degree and starting work in Nowra. I saw firsthand how difficult it was for her to travel from Nowra to Wollongong each day for her radiotherapy treatment. Her suffering, and the effect it had on me as her mother, made me a passionate advocate for this facility in the Shoalhaven. That firsthand experience made my passion all the more committed. I have met many other cancer sufferers on the committee who have experienced difficulty with travelling long distances for treatment. I know also that many people throughout New South Wales would experience the same problem of a lack of radiotherapy services in their area.
I know it is not possible to provide cancer centres throughout New South Wales and we are privileged and blessed that last Sunday the Prime Minister recognised the efforts of the Shoalhaven community. The fact that he travelled to the area and met with the press and our local mayor to make the announcement has lifted the spirits of Shoalhaven, South Coast and Kiama residents. Everything they have done for so long has been rewarded through this magnificent announcement. We are extremely grateful to the Prime Minister and all those in the community who have made this happen. We now know that those suffering from cancer and those to be diagnosed with cancer in the future will have a much better experience because of the cancer care centre in the Shoalhaven. The member for Kiama and I both look forward to the opening of the centre. We will cooperate as much as possible at all levels to ensure that the project is delivered expeditiously and for the benefit of all in the Shoalhaven. Again, I thank everyone for their efforts, including the member for Kiama. I am certain this will be one of the finest cancer care centres in the country.
Ms NOREEN HAY
(Wollongong—Parliamentary Secretary) [6.57 p.m.]: Tonight I speak about additional facilities for cancer care, particularly at Wollongong Hospital. The Rudd and Keneally governments are investing $14.1 million to expand and upgrade the Illawarra Cancer Care Centre at Wollongong Hospital. The Keneally Government will invest $2 million to increase the provision of radiotherapy services at the Illawarra regional cancer centre. We were delighted to obtain the current linear accelerator at the Wollongong cancer centre from the New South Wales Labor Government. It has assisted a number of cancer sufferers and these additional resources will make a tremendous difference to the treatment of people who attend Wollongong Hospital from around the region. It will make their life that little bit better through obtaining speedier access to more up-to-date service.
The establishment of this cancer centre is an historic day for residents living along the South Coast. The Commonwealth and State governments announced expansion of the Illawarra radiation oncology treatment centre at Wollongong Hospital. I, too, acknowledge Phil Clingan for his dedication and hard work to cancer treatment on the South Coast. The networking of services across the Illawarra and Shoalhaven will ensure that residents are able to access high-quality cancer services. It will provide support for quality research, education and teaching of the specialised workforce needed to deliver cancer care. I acknowledge the comments made by the Minister for Transport, David Campbell, the member for Keira. He emphasised the importance of the enhanced services. He stated that he was particularly happy about the additional chemotherapy chairs and the enhanced facilities for haematology.
I know that the Minister has a particular interest in cancer services. These improvements to facilities and resources need to be applauded across the board. I am proud of the cancer centre at Wollongong Hospital and I commend the work and dedication of the doctors, clinicians and nursing staff. I am aware of the fundraising activities conducted by the community many years ago and that it took a Labor Government to actually establish the cancer care centre at Wollongong Hospital.
I will make a couple of points in relation to the New South Wales Government's commitment. In January 2009 the new $5.3 million Mental Health Unit, especially designed to care for older people in the Wollongong region, was officially opened. Sometimes we forget that older people often suffer from cancer, and those facilities help people across the board. The 14-bed specialist Older People's Mental Health Unit, attached to Wollongong Hospital, is the first service of its kind for the region. Again, sometimes we forget that people with mental health issues may also suffer from cancer. That attention to the delivery of quality cancer care services is appreciated. I cannot commend highly enough the caring staff at Wollongong Hospital. I have spoken to them many times when I have visited the hospital. I have spoken many times to Professor Philip Clingan and acknowledge his dedication and the dedication of his staff. Their lobbying has affected the outcome for the hospital.
I know that the member for Kiama has lobbied for additional services for cancer patients in the Shoalhaven. We both appreciate the money that the Federal Government, through Kevin Rudd, has allocated, and we appreciate also the Premier's contribution to the Shoalhaven of $10 million. The allocation of $14 million for the Illawarra Cancer Care Centre at Wollongong Hospital is a significant amount, and it will top up and enhance its resources. I am very grateful for that and commend the Keneally Government and the Rudd Government for their vision.
Mr DARYL MAGUIRE
(Wagga Wagga) [7.02 p.m.]: I am pleased to join with members in acknowledging that funding has been made available for new radiotherapy clinics in Wollongong, Nowra, Tamworth and other places. The member for Tamworth told me that his electorate will receive one linear accelerator, and one is to be provided in Nowra with bunker provision for two. Each hospital needs two linear accelerators, because the technology is prone to breaking down. If that occurs, patients would have to travel to the nearest linear accelerator or go without radiotherapy until the broken equipment is repaired. Basically, those communities have been short changed, which is disappointing. I encourage the Government to make up the funding deficit so that a second radiotherapy linear accelerator can be provided in the towns that I have mentioned.
The Wagga Wagga radiotherapy clinic was established in 2002. The great tragedy is that the Wagga Wagga community raised the money without a dollar from the State or Federal Government to build that radiotherapy centre and install the linear accelerators. The community did that on its own. Wagga Wagga received health program grants under the then Minister for Health, which, over time, provided for the payment for linear accelerators. Over the past eight years, people have been able to stay in Wagga Wagga, or travel to Wagga Wagga, for treatment—a great positive outcome. I understand why members are pleased about their funding allocations.
In the latest round of funding Wagga Wagga applied for $16 million to enhance its facilities. Linear accelerators have a very short life, and that funding would have ensured the purchase of a new one. Wagga Wagga needs to replace its linear accelerator as well as introduce some new programs, such as brachytherapy, which treats cancer from the inside rather than by external beams. I watched Kevin Rudd make the recent funding announcements on television and I heard it said that Wagga Wagga would receive funding. It did not! It applied for $16 million, but it did not get a brass razoo. Therefore, the facility in the south-west of the State that has been supported by the community in partnership with the private sector, and after having paid for the equipment, built it and maintained it for all of that time, is not to receive a brass razoo. Out of the billions of dollars sought in applications, and the $500 million worth of applications approved, there is no additional funding for Wagga Wagga.
Additional surgery time must be provided, and training programs must be introduced. Radiotherapists can be trained in the Riverina radiotherapy centre. I approached the previous Minister for Health and the current Minister for Health and said, "We can help you. We need 0.5 manpower to enable us to achieve training status." But has that happened? No, it has not. The radiotherapy centre treats 50 patients a day; they come from New Zealand and from all over Australia to be treated in Wagga Wagga because the clinic is efficient. I suggest that the new facilities would treat between 28 and 35 people a day, if it is lucky. The model that Wagga Wagga was built on was given to the Minister, and the proponents said that they would help the new facility achieve that level of usage. Of course, that great advice was ignored.
I extend my best wishes to the communities that have worked hard. The member for South Coast has worked tirelessly. She came to Wagga Wagga with a fabulous fundraising committee. They went through the pros and cons of the centre. I commend the local member for her passionate pursuit of this equipment. This is one issue that unites us all. The insidious disease of cancer affects one in three people. We should join together to do whatever we can to help those afflicted; there is no doubt about that. At this point, I register my unhappiness, my disappointment, that the entire south-west—including Albury, which already has a radiotherapy centre—has applied for money but has received absolutely nothing. The communities' needs have been ignored. The communities are paying the price for helping themselves. That is absolutely disgusting; it is appalling. The Federal Government and the State Government should reconsider their priorities and fix the problem.
Mr DAVID HARRIS
(Wyong—Parliamentary Secretary) [7.07 p.m.]: I thank the member for Kiama for bringing this important matter to the attention of the House. I acknowledge the words of the member for South Coast that "this type of issue is above politics". One of the most daunting tasks I had a couple of weeks after I was elected as a new member of Parliament was to meet with a gentleman who had to make a decision to not have treatment, to give up and die. He could not access or afford radiotherapy treatment, and he could not manage to travel to the Royal North Shore Hospital for treatment as a public patient. It is one of the most confronting issues I have faced: a man was trying to make a decision about whether he would live or die based on whether he could afford to pay for treatment.
I then became a passionate advocate for public radiotherapy services on the Central Coast. One of the greatest things about the announcement by the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, that the Federal Government would invest $28.6 million and the State Government would invest $10 million in Gosford Hospital is that it is a win for the whole community. I acknowledge the work of a number of community members and the support of the member for Gosford, Marie Andrews, who led this charge from the early days; the member for The Entrance, Grant McBride; and the local Federal members who contributed in the later days to ensure that our community finally received the facilities that they need.
I am sure that the member for Gosford will mention the work of Kathy Smith, from Cancer Voices, who has been fantastic. Lyn Smith, a survivor of cancer, runs the Candles Cancer Support Group, and is passionate about assisting other people in the same position to make sure they are supported through the journey of being diagnosed with cancer. Sharon Ray has formed the Butterfly Foundation to assist people with cancer. The work of these people—who are survivors and who have been through the ordeal of cancer—is absolutely fantastic. It is something that cannot be underestimated.
I also pay tribute to the people from the New South Wales Cancer Council who helped put together the plan. I was honoured to be appointed as the Central Coast representative on the North Sydney Central Coast Advisory Committee of the New South Wales Cancer Council and to work with the clinicians from Royal North Shore Hospital and the Central Coast in putting together the Central Coast Cancer Plan. The plan then became an investigation, after Minister Jodie McKay set up a group to examine the plan more closely. Through this process we submitted an application to the Federal Government, ensuring that it was a strong application and that the plan covered all the matters it needed to cover in order to gain funding for the regional cancer centre.
The new Central Coast Regional Cancer Centre will include a new facility at Gosford Hospital with two linear accelerators, consultation space, planning and support areas, waiting and reception space, office and support accommodation, refurbishment and expansion of the medical oncology unit, and, an aspect I was very pleased about, enhancement of the multidisciplinary clinic and day oncology unit at Wyong Hospital. Groups such as Lions and Rotary raise money for our hospitals. The hospital auxiliary people also raise money. However, the fact that both the Federal and State governments have been able to come to the party and make sure that this facility will materialise will be celebrated on the Central Coast for a long time.
I do not think we will ever realise the impact the facility will have on the lives of people who are diagnosed with cancer. It will not only improve the treatment they will receive, ensuring they can receive it locally, but it will also improve the quality of their lives and those of their families as they go through that process. I do not think any words can put that into perspective. Unless one has been through the experience of having to leave the Central Coast, having to get public transport to Royal North Shore Hospital, having to walk up the hill from Artarmon station and then having to try to find the public cancer facilities, one cannot understand the plight of these cancer sufferers. This is a great announcement that will be absolutely well received by the Central Coast community.
Mr PETER DRAPER
(Tamworth) [7.12 p.m.]: For a long time residents in rural and regional communities have had a much more difficult time than their city cousins in accessing cancer services, and this, sadly, has undoubtedly resulted in premature deaths. The tyranny of distance also results in inconvenience and difficulty for patients, who are already trying to deal with the side effects of treatment, and whose families have to travel long distances and find accommodation far from home at an already very trying time.
The recent announcement of $31.6 million in Federal funds plus $10 million from the State Government to develop an integrated cancer centre at Tamworth hospital is fantastic news for the entire New England and north-west community. Indeed, it is an acknowledgement that Tamworth hospital has the critical population mass needed to support major services for northern New South Wales. This is a great example of Federal and State health authorities successfully working together to deliver an outcome that will greatly benefit future generations of rural and regional cancer patients and their families, simply by bringing the treatment closer to home.
The new $41.6 million regional cancer centre will be built in the grounds of Tamworth hospital, and it will be operational in 2012-13. The regional cancer centre will initially include one linear accelerator and two radiotherapy bunkers at Tamworth; an additional six chemotherapy chairs, four at Tamworth and two at Armidale; major diagnostic equipment, including a new computed tomography [CT] scanner at Tamworth; and, very good news, 14 additional accommodation places for rural and regional patients and their carers, to be based at the Tamworth hospital campus.
It has long been a priority of mine to see expanded cancer services established in Tamworth. Statistics indicate that the incidence of cancer is rising, and that people receiving treatment for cancer will have better outcomes if they are treated closer to home. It has been projected that by 2011 there will be 1,095 new cases of cancer requiring cancer services in the northern part of the Hunter New England Health area and 1,216 by 2016. An integrated cancer centre at Tamworth hospital will enable effective service by providing a multifaceted service that will be delivered by a multidisciplinary team. Of all the local people referred for radiation oncology services in 2005, 39 per cent went to Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney, 19.5 per cent attended Queensland hospitals, 17 per cent went to the Calvary Mater Hospital in Newcastle, 13 per cent went to St Vincents Hospital or the Mater in Crows Nest, while 11.5 per cent travelled to other facilities.
The regional cancer centre will treat patients from the New England and north-west regions of New South Wales, including Tamworth and surrounding areas, such as Gunnedah, Manilla, Barraba, Werris Creek, Quirindi, Moree, Armidale, Glen Innes, Narrabri, Wee Waa, and further afield. Patients who had previously travelled to Newcastle, Sydney, Coffs Harbour or Brisbane will be able to receive care at the new centre. Having this service available in Tamworth will make a huge difference to these people. Along with treatment and diagnostic facilities, the centre will be the first of its kind in the area to provide purpose-built accommodation for carers of patients who need to travel.
Services delivered through the regional cancer centre will network with the well-established cancer centres at Calvary Mater Hospital in Newcastle and John Hunter Hospital. Hunter New England Health also has a digital network that enables X-rays to be sent digitally, so scans and other diagnostic imaging can be transferred throughout the network of cancer treatment centres with ease and speed. In addition, the integrated cancer centre through Tamworth hospital will cover hospital-based, community and home-based services, including haematology-oncology services, improved chemotherapy services, surgical services, allied health support services, access to pain management services, access to palliative and bereavement services, as well as access to psycho-oncology services. These services will be complemented by Cancer Australia and the Cancer Institute of New South Wales services through the northern New South Wales cancer network.
I congratulate Hunter New England Health Chief Executive Nigel Lyons and personally say thank you to the many Hunter New England Health staff from departments including area cancer services and population health, planning and performance, who have done a wonderful job in compiling the very comprehensive submission that led to this funding being provided for the new facility. Every one of them deserves to be congratulated on helping the area health service take a major step in providing vital services to people in our rural and regional communities.
I also acknowledge the role of local community cancer support groups who have lobbied long and hard for improved facilities in Tamworth and whose hard work has been rewarded through this decision. Thousands of local people have worked together in the campaign, and I have presented so many signatures on petitions to the Parliament that I have lost count of the number of people who have taken the time to participate. While much has been achieved, a lot more remains to be done before rural and regional communities are on an equal footing with their metropolitan counterparts.
The announcement has also provided an important impetus to the redevelopment of Tamworth hospital, and will bring critical medical services that much closer to home for many rural and regional people. It is one of the most important developments in rural health provision announced in the Tamworth region for many years, and both State and Federal governments deserve the highest congratulations for this initiative.
Ms MARIE ANDREWS
(Gosford) [7.17 p.m.]: It gives me great pleasure to speak on this matter of public importance brought to the House by my colleague the member for Kiama. Last week on the Central Coast the Premier, the Hon. Kristina Keneally, and the Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon. Kevin Rudd made a momentous announcement: The Central Coast is to receive a regional cancer care centre to be operated and maintained by the New South Wales Government. This announcement will have a positive impact each year on the lives of thousands of people on the Central Coast. The Rudd and Keneally governments will invest $38.6 million to enhance cancer services at both Gosford and Wyong hospitals. Premier Keneally has committed $10 million in capital from the New South Wales Government to the centre.
This announcement comes after years of petitioning various Ministers for Health by community advocacy groups and all Central Coast Labor members—the member for Wyong and Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Minister for the Central Coast, David Harris; the member for The Entrance, Grant McBride; the member for Swansea, Robert Coombs; and me. For too long cancer patients living on the Central Coast have had to make their way south to Royal North Shore Hospital or north to Newcastle, or pay for private services on the Central Coast—a cost that is prohibitive for many people. In many cases, patients in need of radiotherapy would forgo treatment altogether as the only transport available to them was a lengthy train journey. This historic announcement will, for the first time, see public radiotherapy services available at Gosford Hospital.
The centre will take a multidisciplinary cancer care approach, and will include medical oncology, haematology and cancer surgery services. The main features of the new centre are as follows: radiotherapy will be offered at Gosford Hospital for the first time, with capacity for two new treatment machines; an expansion of chemotherapy services at Gosford Hospital, with five additional treatment spaces; and refurbishment of the cancer unit at Wyong Hospital, to improve access to specialist consultations. The service is expected to provide treatment for an additional 828 radiotherapy patients a year and 2,500 additional chemotherapy treatments a year. Networking with Royal North Shore Hospital will ensure that even patients with very complex needs can be cared for locally and there will be support for quality research, education and teaching for the specialised workforce needed to deliver cancer care.
The announcement made on 14 April was warmly welcomed by Central Coast residents. In particular, I pay tribute to Cancer Voices, who campaigned long and hard for public radiotherapy services on the Central Coast. Kathy Smith and her colleagues have been at the forefront in this campaign and I say to them "Congratulations and well done." My own involvement with Kathy Smith and her colleagues goes back to March 2007 when I was alerted to the call by the then Regional Advocacy Network [RAN] to obtain public radiotherapy services for the Central Coast. Regional Advocacy Network later became known as Cancer Voices. Correspondence, phone calls and a meeting with network representatives followed over the next few months. Then in June 2007 a meeting was held in Parliament House with the then Minister Assisting the Minister for Health (Cancer), Verity Firth, Kathy Smith and Elizabeth Bratby from RAN, Professor Jim Bishop, then head of the New South Wales Cancer Institute, and Kathy Meleady of New South Wales Health.
In September 2007 the Regional Advocacy Network launched a petition calling for public radiotherapy services to be provided on the Central Coast. In November 2007 I lodged those petitions containing 19,000 signatures with the Legislative Assembly. In April 2008 I went with Kathy Smith to Parliament House, following which the then Minister for Health, the Hon. Reba Meagher, wrote to the Federal Minister for Health, the Hon. Nicola Roxon, requesting assistance in fast-tracking radiotherapy services for the Central Coast. In September 2008 I wrote to the then Minister Assisting the Minister for Health (Cancer), Tony Stewart, seeking assistance in the provision of public radiotherapy services for the Central Coast. In October 2008 I lodged more petitions in Parliament on behalf of Central Coast residents.
This has been a long battle. It is important to note that in a speech in this House in October 2008 the member for Terrigal claimed that public radiotherapy would not be provided on the Central Coast for at least 10 years. I am very pleased to inform the House that that will not be the case. I congratulate all those involved—my Labor colleagues and certainly the community groups—for this great outcome for the Central Coast.
Mr GEOFF PROVEST
(Tweed) [7.22 p.m.]: This is a very important issue. Cancer is a very insidious disease and it affects many in our local communities, nowhere more so than the Tweed. I support the recent initiatives to roll out radiotherapy services but I would like to draw to the attention of members the issue in the Tweed. Currently the Tweed has 2,500 cancer sufferers and we also service the other side of the border where there are approximately 1,500 cancer sufferers. We are unfortunate because even though the New South Wales Cancer Council recommended that the Tweed should get radiation treatment services we were unsuccessful in our bid. Lismore is to get radiation treatment services and I take nothing away from them as there are many sufferers there, as the hardworking local member would know.
It is unfortunate that the Tweed does not have a radiation treatment service. Our current catchment is around 4,000 people. Late last year I obtained under freedom of information a futuristic document compiled by NSW Health and Queensland Health on the future of health provision in the Northern Rivers area. In that document New South Wales Health clearly indicated that people in the Tweed could quite easily access the services currently being provided in Queensland. The only radiation service currently provided in Queensland is in Brisbane, which is about an hour and 10 minutes away by various forms of public transport. In that document the Queensland Government also indicated that the new radiation treatment service being set up at the new Gold Coast hospital at Parklands would more than adequately handle the demand. The Gold Coast currently has a population of 600,000 and against the wishes of the clinicians the Queensland Government is locating only three radiation bunkers there, which will not even service the current need.
It is disappointing that recently I have had young mothers coming to me saying they cannot afford to have private radiation treatment and they cannot afford the time away from their families so they are going to forgo the treatment. I have had perhaps half a dozen people who are going to suffer in silence and pass away. I do not believe that is good enough. Many years ago I chaired a Federal committee that provided funding to the regions and we set up a collaboration between Bond and Griffith universities and NSW Health and established the first regional doctor training facility in the Tweed. Currently we have 84 doctors and 110 clinicians in training.
I did not back away from this problem. Every town deserves to have access to radiation treatment. I recognised that we needed to make a point of difference for the cancer sufferers in the Tweed. I approached my old colleagues, the dean of medicine at Bond University, the dean of medicine at Griffith University and the new dean of nursing at Southern Cross University to get them to collaborate. I also approached Dr Bernie Mason, who owns the private facility at John Flynn Private Hospital, which has two radiation bunkers. He has another two at Southport and Nambour, and two at the Wesley Cancer Care Centre. He is the largest private provider of radiation treatment in Queensland and sits on many Federal committees.
There is the ability to create not only public radiation treatment but also private radiation treatment in the Tweed. The point of difference is that it is fine to create all these facilities across New South Wales but Australia is experiencing a severe lack of radiation clinicians, people trained to operate and maintain these fairly technical pieces of equipment. What I want to do in the Tweed, as we did with the doctor training, is to create a private-public collaboration not only to provide radiation treatment but also to provide the first regional training facility in Australia for radiation clinicians. There is no other facility that trains those clinicians.
I am pleased to announce that we will be having our first meeting next month and the initial reports from all three universities and the largest private provider have been very positive. We will do this; we have done it before in the Tweed. We have taken up the challenge. I now challenge the State Government to support the region. I have had informal meetings with NSW Health and it is also behind the proposal. It is time we got together and really worked to rid ourselves of this insidious disease cancer. Once again I am 100 per cent for the Tweed.
Mr MATT BROWN
(Kiama) [7.27 p.m.], in reply: I thank all speakers in tonight's debate. We can certainly see that this is an issue that arouses passions. We have had speakers from right across the political divide—members of the Labor Party Government as well as members of the Liberal Party, The Nationals and Independents, all from regional areas, talking about the needs of their region and the difficulties faced by the regions. The member for Wyong told another gut-wrenching story. He said it was one of the most confronting stories he has ever heard. We also heard from the member for Wyong and the member for Gosford about the fantastic facility they have received, with tens of millions of dollars being spent in Gosford and Wyong hospitals. We also heard the member for Gosford list the lobbying she had done in talking to different cancer Ministers over the years. I certainly know how that feels and how important it is for members to have the Minister's ear to ensure that our submissions are being supported and particularly that our voices are being heard.
I also recognise the contribution made by the member for Wollongong. I had great pleasure accompanying her at the announcement of the $14.1 million expansion of Wollongong Hospital with the Prime Minister and the Deputy Premier of New South Wales and Minister for Health, Carmel Tebbutt. The people in my electorate of Kiama will be using both the facilities, at Wollongong and Shoalhaven. It is fantastic that the Illawarra has these two facilities servicing such a vast, important and fast-growing region. Those extra facilities in Wollongong Hospital will certainly look after the interests of people in my electorate, as will the facilities to be provided at Shoalhaven. I also pay tribute to the contribution made by the member for South Coast, who has been working with similar community groups to me.
I place on record my appreciation of the outstanding efforts made by all community groups that have raised money in an effort to show the Ministers that we are serious. The Berry Garden Club has raised more than $60,000—just one club in my electorate—which has gone a long way to reaching the $1 million target. The respect that Greg Watson, the former Shoalhaven Mayor, had for Ray Cleary and this cause saw him establish the Linear Accelerator Committee, or the LINAC Committee, and that work has been continued by Mayor Paul Green. Nor should we forget the extraordinary work of Paul Dean, with whom I have been in frequent contact during the past number of years. I refer also to the Bingo work of Zeta Cleary and her team at Bomaderry Bowling Club—the money of all those Bingo players goes to this worthwhile cause. I refer also to the work of the Lions and other services clubs. Mark Crowther has been a huge support to Paul Dean. Professor Phil Clingan and other specialists helped put together a cogent submission to the Federal Government, supported by the New South Wales Government, to ensure this dream became a reality.
I acknowledge the contribution of the member for Tamworth, who understood that both the State and Federal governments needed to work together to achieve this result. Because the State and Federal Labor governments share a similar vision, millions and millions of dollars are now on the ground. I recently spoke to Mary Millgate from Relay for Life at Shoalhaven. These people are cancer survivors, or have been affected by cancer, and they give up their time for further research. These are great results. I thank everyone for their contributions.
The House adjourned, pursuant to resolution, at 7.32 p.m. until
Thursday 22 April 2010 at 10.00 a.m.