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­­­­­­­­­28 November 2012   Doorstop interview Senate Courtyard with Hon Peter Dutton MP, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Senator Nick Xenophon


DUTTON: Thanks very much everyone, I am very pleased to be here with Senator Nick Xenophon and also Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, we don’t often see bipartisan arrangements, in fact a unanimous position in this place but when it comes to providing support to chemo patients, I think there is an unanimous support in this parliament.

We are seeing unfolding before our eyes a tragedy across the country which has the potential to see cancer patients turned away from chemotherapy services. We have joined together with Senator Xenophon and I think the Greens also support this position strongly- that we want to see Tanya Plibersek sort this mess out, before chemo patients get turned away from the 1st of December. The last thing I want to do is see patients who are already under incredible stress, suffer more stress and concern and if private patients are turning up to have their chemotherapy undertaken and they are turned away from beds, that is an outrage. I think Tanya Plibersek has an obligation to get this mess sorted out, it has been on her books for the last 2 years and the fact we are on the eve of this disaster unfolding is a disgrace and it just shows that this government lurches from one disaster to the next and I think there is absolute support across the parliament for the Government to get this mess sorted out  and I ask Senator Xenophon to say a few words and then we can take some questions.

XENOPHON: Thanks Peter. We have a situation where every non-government Senator  supports a resolution that’s coming up in the Senate tomorrow. We are calling on the Government to sort out this mess, because it is a mess -  we have the Coalition, the Greens, the DLP and Independents saying there is something seriously wrong here, so that gives you an idea that this is an issue that crosses party lines, it crosses ideology, it is about getting a pragmatic solution to a real mess. Everybody agrees that price disclosure is a good thing but the Government didn’t think through the consequences of this. The pharmacy sector, the community pharmacy sector has warned about this for several years, it’s an issue I have discussed with my colleague Senator Fierravanti-Wells. This is a mess that needs to be sorted out and if it doesn’t, if the government doesn’t sort this out, it will be a situation where sooner rather than later, you will find chemotherapy patients won’t be able to get access to chemotherapy and might have to travel for hours, they will be disrupted and they will pushed on to the public system which is already straining to treat these patients.

FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I just want to say, to echo the comments to have a motion that is signed by the Coalition, Dr Di Natale, Senator Madigan and Senator Xenophon, is indicative of the strength of feeling on this issue and as Peter has said, Tanya Plibersek has had this on her books for 2 years and so typical of this Government, they make a decision and then they think about the consequences when people start jumping up and down and looking and complaining about their decision, that’s when they start suddenly thinking goodness me what’s been the impact on patients. This is yet another example and we have seen it most especially in the mental health area, where these sort of decisions have been made without being thought through.


XENOPHON: The first, the best option, would have been to disallow the motion, but that can’t be done for a number of technical reasons, you would have reverted back to an earlier decision by the Minister which would have left a Docetaxel patient slightly better off by a factor of 1 or 2% but other chemotherapy patients worse off. The other alternative is something Peter may want to talk about,  is the other option to sort this out, is to produce a Private Members Bill in the House of Reps and Private Members Bill in the Senate requiring the Minister to undertake certain steps, so that patients aren’t inconvenienced. It is an issue I have raised very briefly with Tony Windsor today and something I will make further representation to Tony about, but clearly if the Government doesn’t fix this by February, and we really want them to fix it now before the December first cut off date, then it will have to be a show down with this legislation. I will be working over the break with Peter and Connie and others to get support from all non-government Senators.


XENOPHON: No it’s a question of ensuring, not so much that, it’s a question of ensuring that there is adequate remuneration for pharmacists to dispense these very expensive drugs where this a higher degree of skill involved in a sense,  and I am happy to refer to Peter in relation to this, but the issue is it wasn’t followed through in terms of allowing for the gap of  price disclosure. Price disclosure is a good thing, it means a less of cost of drugs, its good for taxpayers, good for patients, but the problem is the dispensing fees have also been slashed as a consequence and that effectively means that patients will be worse off and a number of these units,  Peter and Connie have got details of a number of units that dispense chemotherapy including St Andrews Hospital in Toowoomba that are going to be under an enormous pressure in order to be able to continue with this very valuable community service.


DUTTON: What has happened is, the Government has failed to adequately address the dispensing fee if you like, so for a time the inflated price of the drug has cross subsidised to account for that lack of money in the dispensing fee, now we all support price disclosure, as Nick quite rightly points out and we say to the Government now that you have got the drug cost under control and there is no longer that cross-subsidisation, you need to sort it out and you should have sorted it out by now, the dispensing arrangement. The Government should have been paying an adequate price for the dispensing fee. That’s what we believe that the Government needs to do. Now Senator Xenophon spoke about action in Parliament when it resumes in February, if the Government hasn’t fixed this mess up by then, I can give a guarantee from the Coalition’s perspective, that we will be seeking the support of the Independents and working with the Independents in the Senate as well, to make sure that we put extra pressure, whatever pressure we can put on to the Government to make sure they resolve this issue, because I really want people to understand that from the 1st of December, places will close. Cancer centres that have been funded by the previous Prime Minister Mr Rudd, with the capital funding and the expansion of those services, which was a good thing but those beds, those chairs will close and those chemotherapy patients will be sent into the public sector, which will just make it harder for the delivery of those services to public patients. This is a real problem for patients and it’s on the eve of happening, so I think we need to really ramp up the pressure on the Government, they have a couple of days to sort it out –or this is going to create massive disruption to cancer patients around the country and Tanya Plibersek has had this and Nicola Roxon has had this issue on their books for the last 2 years and it should have been sorted out by now.


DUTTON: No, that’s the case, so the dispensing arrangements at the moment are inadequate and the companies were happy to wear that whilst ever the price of this particular drug provided cross- subsidisation, so the real issue goes to the adequacy or the inadequacy of the payment of the dispensing of the drug and that’s what the government have the negotiations before them and they’ve had before them for more than 2 years and they haven’t been able to resolve it.


DUTTON: Well those people have been to see us and no doubt been to see Nick and the other independents say it’s in the order of $100– that’s an issue for them to debate with the health department and with the experts who can look at what the involved costs are; all we say is, the Department should have been directed by the Minister to have this issue resolved before now, we are on the 11th hour, we are on the verge cancer patients been called at home and being told not to come in for chemotherapy and that is unacceptable for a Government in good conscience and completely unacceptable for the Health Minister to tolerate that situation to develop and they should resolve it sooner rather than later.


Media contact: Kenneth King – 0437 436 780 or (07) 3205 9977

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