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BE OUR GUEST
Health always central for Emma
BY EMMA MCBRIDE MP
Five pharmacists have served in the Federal Parliament – John Hodges (a Minister in the Fraser
Government), Tony Lamb, Tony Lawler, Jim Snow and myself.
With the exception of 1997, every year between
1972 and 2001 saw at least one pharmacist sitting in
the House of Representatives. It has been 15 years
since Tony Lawler left the Chamber, and I am the first
woman to chart this particular course.
My colleagues in the House come from many and
varied backgrounds. Teachers, lawyers, economists,
disability workers, journalists – the list goes on. Each
of us brings our own experience and skills to the
role. In my case, having a background in health is
central to the way I view public policy.
I pursued a career in politics because of a deeply held
belief that the actions of Government have a profound
impact on the health and wellbeing of individuals
and communities. In the region I represent (on the
Central Coast of NSW) employment, particularly
for young people, limited economic growth and
increasing inequality are challenges. However, with a
rapid increase in population, the provision of quality,
affordable, local services – particularly healthcare – is
one of the highest priorities.
For the largest part of my career I was the specialist
mental health pharmacist at Wyong Hospital. Those
living with mental illness are particularly vulnerable
and the lack of resources for public hospitals and
community mental health teams is alarming and
must be urgently addressed. Patients are increasingly
cared for in the community, but if support services are
not in place or adequately resourced then patients,
their carers and the community suffer. I entered this
role with a firm commitment to improve the care of
those living with mental illness.
I took a policy to my community at the election to
establish a $10 million trial of respite care for people
living with dementia and those who care for them.
The Central Coast was to be one of two trial sites
in a joint project between Alzheimer’s Australia
and the University of Wollongong. It is important
for leaders and policymakers to be aware of the
impact of dementia on communities, now and in the
future. Of course it’s harder to introduce policy from
Opposition, but this is a project that is definitely
needed and close to my heart and I will work to keep
it on the agenda.
My region does not have a community palliative care
facility and I am working with a local organisation
to establish a place where people can receive end of
life care comfortably and with their loved ones. Our
conversations around primary healthcare, chronic
disease, pain management and palliative care need
to progress and one of the greatest privileges of
being a Member of Parliament is to be in a position
to advance these debates.
Recently, I was pleased to co-host the cross-party
launch of Professor Stephen Duckett’s Grattan
Institute Report into sugar-sweetened beverages,
which calls for a tax on sugary drinks to offset health
costs relating to obesity and reduce sugar intake.
Through my experience in mental health, I have seen
firsthand the consequences of obesity in vulnerable
patient populations. While no single measure will
address our obesity crisis, price signals can play a role
in changing behaviour. Taxes on sugar-sweetened
beverages – most of which contain no nutritional
benefit and are heavily consumed by children – have
been successfully introduced overseas and we should
look closely at the outcomes.
Science is precise, policy is not. Policy should not be
exempt from scrutiny or change. I am listening to my
community as they tell me about the transition to the
National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), and while
the principles remain strong, it’s important that clients
and stakeholders have the opportunity to share their
experience with the NDIS. The stories I hear are not
always positive, and we are obliged to acknowledge
and address those concerns. Public policy is best when
it is shaped by those with lived experience.
Our profession, and our representative bodies, have
a seat at the table when it comes to forming policy.
While we await the final report in the King Review,
I remain a strong advocate for the current system
of community pharmacy, including pharmacy
ownership by pharmacists.
Looking forward, pharmacy must remain at the
policymaking table. As pressure on the health sector
grows, and technology changes the way consumers
access health information, the delivery of quality,
professional advice and services – from medicines
experts – is more important, not less. In this context,
the public is best served when we work together.
is the ALP Member for
Dobell in NSW. She
has been a practising
pharmacist for close to
20 years with a special
interest in mental health.
Prior to her election, she
was the Deputy Director of
Pharmacy for the Central
Coast Local Health District.
bodies, have a
seat at the table
when it comes to
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