Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Paola Harvey's speech to Cancer Council meeting

The Cancer Council’s 'saving life' agenda is completely in line with Socialist Alliance’s overall health policy. First, I’d like to congratulate the Council for identifying social justice and equality as important, in this document. Everyone has a right to health, and people’s income, where they live and ethnic and cultural background should not affect their life outcomes and treatment options.

The Socialist Alliance bases its policy on health promotion, disease prevention and timely treatment of illnesses and includes promoting good health. It aims to encourage a healthy community in a healthy environment and reduce health risks. Health includes the physical, mental and social well being of the community. It is a resource used by individuals on a daily basis.

A healthy life depends on a healthy environment, safe working conditions and enabling people to increase control over this improvement process. It will be based on the concept of hope and community control.

As part of this approach to health, Socialist Alliance would support the Cancer Council’s recommendations regarding banning smoking in areas where food and drink are provided as part of a business. These are:

Smoke-free dining and drinking

• legislating requirements for specific public areas and workplaces to be smoke-free, including those that are partially or entirely outdoors, with priority given to banning smoking in areas where food or drink is provided as part of a business • developing legislation in a way that enables the Government to easily declare new public places to be smoke free, in line with rapidly changing community standards and expectations and emerging evidence

The Cancer Council’s recommendations regarding creating a licensing scheme for tobacco sellers are common sense. This kind of regulation, one that puts the social cost of tobacco on those that profit from its sale, is preferable to increasing the cost of cigarettes. The reality is that for many people who are addicted to smoking, a price rise on cigarettes would mean less money to pay bills and less food on the table. The Cancer Council’s recommendation puts the cost where it should be, on those that are profiteering from addiction. The recommendations are:

Stronger safeguards on selling tobacco
• requiring that all retailers selling tobacco hold a licence to do so
• designing a licensing scheme that requires prior approval to sell tobacco, imposes conditions on holding a licence, and provides for the withdrawal of the licence if conditions are breached
• instituting a fee for a tobacco retail licence that, at minimum, covers the cost of administering and enforcing the scheme, and reflects the social cost and harm of the product

Further to the Cancer Council’s policy, Socialist Alliance would increase funding for advice and education related to smoking and health in general, including cancer. We also support a complete ban on all forms of tobacco and alcohol advertising. Simply legislating about tobacco isn’t enough, we need to address the social reasons that people smoke to address smoking: social exclusion, alienation, poverty and culture all play a role in this.

Prevention of ill health will be primary in our policies. The promotion of healthy living should be promoted by special campaigns. Schools should be funded to promote healthy eating and to provide healthy food for children by establishing a free lunch time meal program in all schools. Strategies for reduction of stress levels and accidents at work places should be formulated. Free, quality health education and screening programs should be fully funded.

Prevention of ill health would reduce the cost of treatment in the long run. The inclusion of the community in the decision-making processes would also assist in this process. The fact that the community and individuals take responsibility for their health will boost the type of healthy community we envisage.

Access to healthcare is progressively being removed for the poor, and many so-called "high-paid" workers. The public health system is failing, and many in rural and outer metropolitan areas have limited access to even basic general practice medicine. Hospital waiting lists are overcrowded, with too many nights where emergency wards are on ambulance bypass. Meanwhile the private health system benefits from billions of dollars in direct and indirect government subsidies, on top of the semi-compulsory private health insurance rip-off, where working people who can "afford" it pay huge premiums for little return. Where the public system, even in its damaged state, is relatively efficient, the private sector is a black hole for money, with little useful health outcome. Public funding for new radiotherapy centres and machines is absolutely necessary. We recognise that purchasing services from private radiotherapy centres so that patients are not required to pay a ‘gap fee’ may be a necessary “stop gap” measure for the short-term, but we believe that a well-funded, fully public health system is best. Private health puts profits before people, public can put people first. We support:

More radiotherapy services across NSW
• funding new radiotherapy centres and machines
• purchasing services from private radiotherapy centres so that patients are not required to pay a ‘gap fee’ (stop gap measure for short-term, fully public health system is best. Private health puts profits before people, public can put people first)

The Socialist Alliance endorses the principle of universal health insurance which underlies Medicare, and emphasises that Medicare is not just a "safety net". If Australia is to have comprehensive universal health insurance, paid for by progressive taxation and ensuring equitable access to health care for all, there is no need to have private health insurance. Currently, private health insurance is massively subsidised by the Australian government, and it contributes little to total health expenditure. By abolishing the tax rebate for private health insurance, $2.5 billion could be freed to provide more resources for public hospitals.

We need a health system that puts people first and that does not disadvantage anyone who falls ill. No one should be disadvantaged. We support the Cancer Council’s policies on burden-free transport and accommodation for patients on this basis. They are:

Burden-free transport and accommodation for patients
• improving access to and reimbursement rates provided under the Isolated Patients Travel Accommodation and Assistance Scheme
• increasing funding for community transport services
• requiring all Area Health Services to implement policies to provide parking spaces for cancer patients, close to treatment

We also support making public transport free and accessible, as well as massively expanding services. This would help people’s families and friends to be able to visit their loved ones receiving treatment. It would also increase the amount of exercise people would get in society as a whole when people make the switch. A healthy lifestyle, including exercise, has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer. Improving the integration of services for cancer patients is simply common sense, and establishing centres for quality improvement in cancer care is simply common sense and Socialist Alliance would support this.

Optimal cancer care for all
• re-issuing the NSW Clinical Services Framework for Optimising Cancer Care, including processes for monitoring and reporting
• establishing two centres for quality improvement in cancer care, in a rural and a metropolitan area

The costs of our health policies will be achieved by, amongst other things, abolishing government subsidies for private health insurance, and by a major reduction in the defence budget.

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