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Access to Health Services

Parliamentary Activity - Wednesday, 29 August 2018, Cassy O'Connor MP


Ms O'CONNOR (Denison - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for bringing on this matter of public importance today. Although I am not the Greens health spokesperson I am the spokesperson for women, which is why I will make a contribution on this debate.

It has been interesting listening to the cross-flow of information because we talk about equity of access to health services and it is not just specific to access to reproductive health services for women. Any one of us who represents our constituencies and our shadow portfolios will know that there are equity of access issues right around Tasmania. It is an issue often of distance, of your relative wealth, socio-economic circumstances, your level of education and whether or not you have a disability, or are struggling from a mental health problem. For example, there are people who live in St Helens who wish to access the National Disability Insurance Scheme supports who find it very difficult to do so because that level of service provision is not available in St Helens.

If you live in Bothwell, accessing mental health supports is difficult. This is part of a much broader debate we need to be having about equitable and efficient access to health services in Tasmania. We need to take a holistic view of this because we live in a widely dispersed state that is not rolling in income, whether it be from Commonwealth or state funding sources. Therefore, we need to use the resources we have as efficiently and equitably as possible.

I listened carefully to what the minister said about this issue. More detail has been placed on the record about the nature of the agreement with the private provider. My understanding, from what the Premier said, is that the contract is being finalised for the provision of surgical terminations by a private provider from interstate, and that service will be available in October this year.

Ms O'Byrne, we just have to wait and see. We have an assurance now from the secretary of the agency as well as the minister that the service will be available. We do not know what it will look like; we do not know what level of equity it will provide for women who find themselves dealing with an unwanted pregnancy.

There are other bigger issues here. We need to be sure that young people are receiving comprehensive sexual education in the public, private and independent school systems in Tasmania.

The northwest of Tasmania still has one of the nation's highest teenage pregnancy rates. We have known this as a state and as a parliament for many years, going back almost 20 years. Yet these teenage pregnancy rates in the northwest of Tasmania still remain unacceptably high. When I say 'unacceptable', I mean that fundamentally. Young women who have a whole world of possibilities and opportunities in front of them, for a range of reasons, are winding up pregnant at a very young age, which limits the choices they can make. I encourage all members to continue to advocate the comprehensive sexual education in our school system. My understanding is that is has been applied in a very ad hoc way, particularly across the public system. While some schools are rolling out quite rigorous sexual education and respectful relationships education, for other schools it has been deprioritised. That goes to a question of direction from the minister, but also what resourcing is being made available to schools to provide this education. It is education that, of course, is as valid and valuable to young women as it is to young boys.

We should keep having a conversation about equitable access to health services in Tasmania, but let us now make it unnecessarily narrow. Let us look at the suite of health and community supports that are available in Tasmania, regional and rural inequities, and what we can do as a parliament to correct that and make sure that no matter where you live in Tasmania, there will be a service that is available to you. It might not be around the corner but it will not be that far away and the Government will support you in accessing that service.

On a personal note, I say a big thank you to the people who work in the emergency department of the Royal Hobart Hospital. Quite recently I had cause to be in the ED with a family member. The capacity and the professionalism of the staff when we walked in struck me, as it does every time I find myself in the emergency department. There were 22 people waiting and the triaging process was the best that it could possibly be. The staff understood that they had people with a range of urgencies and people highly stressed and, in some instances, in great pain. The staff at the emergency department were outstanding. I do not think any person in this place understands the stresses that people who work in the public system are under. Some of them were bravely expressed in public yesterday. We should be very thankful for the quality of the people who work in our public health system in Tasmania. I have said to my family a number of times that if you are going to be sick anywhere in Australia, let it be in Hobart and make your way to the Royal Hobart Hospital because the level of personal care at that hospital is absolutely second to none.

Time expired.