Tuesday, 7 February 2023

Questions without notice

Health system


Questions without notice

Health system

John PESUTTO (Hawthorn – Leader of the Opposition) (14:01): My question is to the Minister for Health. Minister, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre has cancelled critical surgery for dozens of Victorians with cancer due to limited resources, with the acting director of cancer surgery Professor Michael Henderson saying in an email to staff that cancelling this critical surgery will have implications. What advice has the minister received as to how seriously this risks the health of Victorian cancer patients who will be unable to obtain critical surgery as part of their cancer treatment and management?

Mary-Anne THOMAS (Macedon – Leader of the House, Minister for Health, Minister for Health Infrastructure, Minister for Medical Research) (14:02): I thank the member for Hawthorn for his question. I note that he of course was not here last term, and if he was, he would have had many opportunities to understand exactly what is happening in our health system at the moment. As a consequence of a once-in-100-year event, the COVID-19 pandemic, it does not matter what you want the situation to be, the reality is this: the COVID pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on our health services. This is an impact that is being experienced right around the state, right around the nation and indeed right across the world. It has had a global impact on health services. But what I can tell you and what I can share with the house is that our government has a plan in order to alleviate this impact. We have invested $12 billion into our –

Members interjecting.

The SPEAKER: Order! I remind members that when the Speaker is on her feet the house will come to silence.

James Newbury: On a point of order, Speaker, the standing orders do require that an answer be direct. We have been meandering for a couple of minutes and going nowhere near the specific question, and I would put to you that this certainly is not direct in its response.

Daniel Andrews: On the point of order, Speaker, the minister was asked a question about Peter MacCallum, about surgery and about health matters, and that is exactly what she is going to very directly. The assertions of the leader of opposition business, who is not sitting at the table – I am not quite sure why – are spurious.

Members interjecting.

The SPEAKER: Order! This is not a good start to question time, members. I expect a little more silence in the chamber when people are on their feet. It is very disrespectful.

John Pesutto: On the point of order, Speaker, the question was very direct: it was about Professor Michael Henderson’s comment that cancelling critical surgery will have implications. The question is not about the causes that the minister might like to cite, it is about what implications surgical cancellations will have on the prospects of cancer patients. They are watching. They need to know the answer.

The SPEAKER: The Minister for Health was being relevant to the question, and I ask the minister to continue her response.

Mary-Anne THOMAS: I would note it is really important to set the context for those on the other side of the house to understand exactly what is being experienced by our hardworking healthcare workers who are working every day at Peter Mac and elsewhere to deliver the health services that our community needs. But I want to make this point too before I come specifically to talk about Peter Mac: I want everyone in this house to understand that during December we had up to 750 people hospitalised with COVID, and on any given day we had up to 2000 staff members furloughed because of COVID. So as much as those on the other side want to wish COVID away, pretend it never happened with their ‘let it rip’ strategies and so on, I need to point out that it is having a lasting impact. Only our government has a plan to support our health services through this. Not only are we investing in the infrastructure that our health services need, but most importantly of all we are employing the staff because it is people that care for people. Our government was very proud in the election campaign to stand shoulder to shoulder with our nurses, with our ambos, and with our clinicians. What a contrast to those on the other side – not a health worker to be seen.

Let me come back to Peter MacCallum – what an extraordinary and wonderful medical facility that is. I know that there are so many people in this chamber who themselves or whose own families have been impacted by cancer, and we are always grateful for the extraordinary work that is done at the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre by the people of Peter Mac and indeed cancer specialists right across the state. But I want to tell you this: despite all the challenges that have been faced, Peter Mac continues to respond to those issues, and indeed 3307 patients were admitted from their planned surgery waitlist during 2021–22. This is a great outcome, and I thank them for that. Further to this, Peter Mac performed more planned surgery than initially planned from July to December, so it was an increase on what they had proposed to be able to deliver.

Members interjecting.

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Frankston!

Mary-Anne THOMAS: This of course included 100 per cent of all category 1 surgeries being performed within the clinically recommended period of 30 days. So rather than continuing in the same old fashion, talking down our health services, talking down our healthcare workers –

Peter Walsh: On a point of order, Speaker, on the issue of relevance. Obviously Professor Michael Henderson is totally wrong – the minister is effectively calling him a liar when he is saying there are implications for patients who are not getting their surgery. I would ask you to bring her back to actually answering the question about what advice the minister has had about the implications of surgery being cancelled for cancer patients.

The SPEAKER: Order! A couple of things, Leader of the Nationals. First of all, the use of that word is not appropriate in this house. Second of all, it is also not appropriate to repeat the question. The minister was being relevant to the question that was asked, and she was answering the question in the form of the minister’s response, which she obviously has knowledge of.

Mary-Anne THOMAS: Thank you very much, Speaker. I make this point: the Leader of the Nationals does himself no favours whatsoever in the way in which he has presented his point of order. I have nothing but the utmost respect for all of our healthcare professionals and, unlike those on the other side, we actually deliver. We saw our workforce increase by 26,000 people – nurses, doctors, allied healthcare professionals – and we have plans to recruit and train another 24,000 over the next few years. And let me tell you this, Speaker: the workforce – healthcare workers – know that there is only one party that can be trusted to deliver healthcare promises to support healthcare workers, and that is the Andrews Labor government.

James Newbury: On a point of order, Speaker, as the minister would know, there is a requirement that a question not be debated and that the response be succinct. Clearly the minister was debating and, at nearly 9 minutes in, this is now an essay, not a response.

The SPEAKER: The minister has concluded her answer.