Adjournment: Lymphoedema

 Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (11:56 AM) —I rise today to speak on the important topics of lymphoedema and funding for lymphoedema in Australia. I want to pay tribute to the Castle Hill Country Women’s Association, who raised this vital issue in two motions in their community group at a recent meeting. The first motion read:

That the CWA of NSW urges the state and federal governments to establish treatment centres for lymphoedema, with a central register of approved clinicians.

And the second motion read:

That the CWA of NSW urges the state and federal governments to cover the cost of prescribed compression garments necessary in the effective treatment of lymphoedema.

This comes on the eve of the 2010 Australasian Lymphology Association conference, which is being held at the Sebel Albert Park in Melbourne from 27 to 29 May. The theme for this year is ‘Reflections of the Past, Inspirations for the Future’.

Lymphoedema is the term given to swelling as a result of malfunction of the lymphatic system. It can be congenital—primary lymphoedema—or secondary lymphoedema, which results from damage to the system, such as trauma, but it more often results from surgery for cancer or melanoma. In recent times it has become more common. With an increase in the number of obese people or of people with weight-related problems, there is evidence of increasing numbers of diagnoses of lymphoedema.

One of the important features of the motions that the Castle Hill Country Women’s Association has passed is that they have some therapists and people involved in the treatment of this area who have some very direct suggestions that can help government with their funding. I note that the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, when he was the health minister in the previous government was one of those who recognised this challenge and provided funding of half a million dollars to the National Breast Cancer Centre for initiatives to help patients affected by lymphoedema after treatment. In a press release dated 15 April 2007 he noted that the Australian government was providing this half a million dollars because:

At present, there are no lymphoedema guides in Australia for either the public or health professionals.

That is one of the consistent themes that I hear in relation to this topic: that there needs to be an improvement in the awareness of this issue generally and, indeed, the attention given to it. So the Leader of the Opposition, as then Minister for Health certainly saw ahead on this particularly important issue.

The Castle Hill Country Women’s Association is concerned about two issues associated with lymphoedema. The first is the cost of the garments used in the ongoing management of people suffering from lymphoedema. The second is the need for designated, trained therapists and, potentially, what they term as dedicated lymphoedema treatment areas in our hospital system. This is of quite serious concern considering that there could be an extra 38,000 people being diagnosed with cancer each year, of whom at least 8,000 are expected to develop lymphoedema.

As to the cost of treating this condition, the garments that individuals are required to wear need to be made to measure—they cannot be factory made or simply one-size-fits-all. For example it was put to me that one made-to-measure garment with two full legs would cost $712. That could be very significant for people already in difficult circumstances. The cost of treatment is not as great as that for other things, but it is a significant impediment to a person’s ongoing healthcare management and there is little or no attention paid to this serious consideration.

There is also a push—which I support, and which is part of the motions put forward by the Castle Hill Country Women’s Association—for lymphoedema to be regarded as an illness in its own right and managed as such, and I accept that that is something that should be looked at seriously. The suggestion that there be dedicated treatment areas within our hospitals has a lot of merit as well. I think if we are seeking to make improvements to the management of ongoing issues related to cancer treatment, then this is an area that could well benefit from attention from state and federal governments.

A great deal of money has been allocated to researching this illness but, from the advice that has been provided to me, the best-practice guidelines that have resulted from the research are not being followed. I think it is important that treatment centres are established, or looked at by government as an option, for early diagnosis and therapeutic management of this condition. I want to record my thanks to the Castle Hill Country Women’s Association for these wonderful motions and to record my support for lymphoedema being diagnosed as an illness.