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Estimates & Committees
Rachel Siewert 25 Feb 2011

Community Affairs 25 February 2011

Senator SIEWERT—Can we start on the issue of dialysis? I understand the report into the delivery of treatment for kidney disease among Indigenous people in remote communities in Central Australia has been completed?

Ms Powell—That is not quite correct. We have been working closely with the consultants hoping to finalise the report. We have received draft reports, but they are not complete. We have been working closely, including meeting with the George Institute for Global Health this week, to talk about things that they need to do in order to finalise the report so that it fully addresses the terms of reference.

Senator SIEWERT—Do you have an expectation about when that will be available?

Ms Powell—The George Institute for Global Health will be providing us on Monday with a time frame for how they are going to address all of the outstanding matters in the report, so we will have a firm idea after that.

Senator SIEWERT—I know the answer I am going to get, but I have to ask: is there an expectation that that will be released publicly?

Ms Powell—That would be the call of the minister, but it is a report that has been done in close consultation with communities. Many people have seen drafts of the report. It has been done closely with members of the joint steering committee from the three states. I imagine the other ministers will also want to have a view on that.

Senator SIEWERT—Presumably the final report will be circulated to each of the stakeholder states?
Ms Powell—Yes.

Senator SIEWERT—What is the process from there? Have you thought of what the process is from there to start considering the recommendations, and hopefully implementing the recommendations?

Ms Powell—The report covers a very broad range of issues, ranging from social issues to do with service provision and accommodation to quite technical ones about what the projected demands are, and things like that. A lot of those issues are already being discussed. There is a lot of activity going on looking at those already. For example, we see lots of dialysis patients now being treated in Alice Springs whereas previously they were going to Adelaide and Port Augusta. All of the states are very aware that they will need to be responding to the recommendations of the report and are turning their heads to that.

Senator SIEWERT—I understand from some feedback I have had from community members, from the stakeholder discussions et cetera that there is a strong preference for Alice Springs to be a hub for dialysis.

Ms Powell—The report has a whole lot of recommendations around modalities and what services should ideally be located in what locations. That is actually one of the areas that they are still tightening up. They will be providing different models which will hopefully enable us to make better and more informed judgements about what kind of dialysis services should be provided where, under what circumstances, and when they should not be provided in certain places.

Senator SIEWERT—I will obviously be asking more questions about that in May. Hopefully the report will have been released by then. I do still want to talk about dialysis in Alice Springs, though. I understand the lodge in Alice Springs is now open—the new 35-bed facility?

Ms Powell—The Bath Street lodge?
Senator SIEWERT—Yes.

Ms Powell—It was about to be opened a few weeks ago. I cannot confirm if it is open, but that sounds feasible.

Mr Learmonth—Ms Powell and I actually visited that facility a few weeks ago, and it seemed complete to us. It seemed ready to open, so I would not be surprised if it had.

Senator SIEWERT—Could you double-check that for me?

Mr Learmonth—Certainly.

Senator SIEWERT—Just let me know if it is, and when it did open. I understand there are 35 new beds. Are these solely for the use of renal patients or is it accommodation for other uses as well?

Ms Powell—All of the rooms that I saw had specific dialysis facilities in the room. Renal dialysis patients are a focus of it. I cannot be sure if they are excluding anyone else. It certainly is a facility that has been built for those on dialysis. It is being run by the Northern Territory government and they would be better placed to provide that information, but I can certainly follow up.

Senator SIEWERT—That would be appreciated. Is there any further funding that the Australian government has allocated towards accommodation for dialysis patients in Alice Springs?

Ms Powell—There is none that I am aware of, but that is normally funded by state governments. I am pretty sure the Bath Street lodge to which you referred was funded by the Commonwealth. We provided the funding to the Northern Territory government, but generally accommodation and all services associated with dialysis are funded by state governments.

Senator SIEWERT—I appreciate that, and we have had this discussion many times. I have also had it with the government in the chamber. There is a high degree of homelessness of dialysis patients in Alice Springs. Is that therefore being considered as part of the study?

Ms Powell—Absolutely the study is looking at that. It is quantifying that. It provides detailed information on what the need is for accommodation, not just for dialysis patients but for their families and carers. It is quantifying it, and that is what will enable states to better plan for those accommodation requirements into the future.

Senator SIEWERT—I just want to go back and clarify something. As I understand it, the report is doing some of the medium-term and long-term needs. That is correct, is it not?

Ms Powell—That is right.

Senator SIEWERT—So it will be addressing how you deal with some of the medium-term issues: for example, the increasing numbers of people requiring dialysis between now and—what is being called medium term?

Ms Powell—I cannot remember off the top of my head. I think it might be five- and 10-year projections, but I am sorry; I am not positive about that answer.

Senator SIEWERT—My other questions were to do with the report if it had been released, but you obviously cannot answer them if the report has not been released.

Ms Powell—Senator, perhaps while officers are shuffling I could go back to a question you asked before on the renal matter because I have more information. You were asking about the accommodation The Lodge in Bath Street, Alice Springs. It is actually not open. It is ready but it is waiting for its certificate of occupancy. We expect that to be soon and it is in fact accommodating renal patients only in the first instance.

Senator SIEWERT—How soon is soon?

Ms Powell—As soon as the certificate of occupancy is issued we would expect that it would begin taking residents.

Senator SIEWERT—I presume that is a Northern Territory government thing. Are we talking days, weeks?

Ms Powell—Sorry, I do not have that.

Senator SIEWERT—I might try and chase that up with the Northern Territory government. In terms of ‘in the first instance’, what does that mean?

Ms Powell—It is designed for renal patients. My guess is that if they do not have enough they will probably offer the rooms to other people also needing accommodation.

Senator SIEWERT—I cannot imagine that they would not have enough renal patients given the homeless rate.

Ms Powell—The door is open if the beds are not being used. They will always be able to be used.

Senator SIEWERT—Thank you.

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