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Private Member's Statement - Wollondilly Electorate Cancer Care Services

21 March, 2024.

Some might think that 20 years ago on 25 March when my life changed it was because I was told that I was elected to council for the first time, but it was not. On the same day within the same hour I was also told that I had adenocarcinoma, the doctors had no idea where the primary was, and the last person they saw with the same issue was riddled with cancer. Were they wrong? Not exactly. While it had progressed through lymph nodes, we had a chance, and a plan to survive was developed. While it involved three surgeries and radiation, the basis of it revolved around months of chemotherapy.

Yes, I was bald and I felt very unwell, but what kept me going was the chemotherapy and radiation units that were close to home. I had a chance to be independent or have a family member attend without too much imposition because of the units' proximity to home. For any of you who have not visited such a unit, there are recliner chairs that patients sit in, sometimes for many hours, while drugs are administered intravenously. Many people in my electorate and other electorates have the unfortunate need to attend those units. For those in my electorate, however, patients need to travel great distances to Liverpool or Bankstown. It takes considerable time. Patients often leave early in the morning and return home feeling—let's face it—just awful. You just want to be able to fall into bed as quickly as possible. That is why it is essential that these services are close to home.

Bankstown hospital and Bowral hospital have statistics that show what is needed in south-west Sydney and, I would argue, Bowral. At Bankstown there were 350 medical oncology cases diagnosed, 168 new radiation oncology cases diagnosed, 470 new haematology cancer cases diagnosed and 6,060 chemotherapy services administered. In comparison, the small Bowral and District Hospital, the expansion plans of which the last Government tore to shreds and replaced with an upgrade, has very similar statistics. There were 320 medical oncology cases diagnosed, 116 new radiation oncology cases diagnosed, 121 new haematology cancer cases diagnosed and 4,153 chemotherapy services administered.

On top of that there are 354 patients that travelled either to Liverpool or Campbelltown for consultation, and that number does not cover outpatient referrals or direct referrals to specialist services. While our treatment, diagnosed patients and outpatient care are the same as in Bankstown, we are overlooked in regard to the treatment those patients need. Our outdated clinical services plan, which desperately needs an update, shows there is a need for more beds and more services. The highlands have a growing and ageing population. That has created the need for a hospital expansion which has yet to be fulfilled.

We need additional services and, looking at the numbers, I believe we need to think of the future. The Shoalhaven Cancer Care Centre, completed 10 years ago in 2013, is a good comparative size to what I believe is needed in Bowral. It is a project that was built for the future. It has two bunkers for future‑proofing radiation oncology, integrated multidisciplinary cancer care, linear accelerators, ambulatory care services with community outreach capability, teaching and research facilities, clinical offices and, most importantly, scope for future expansion as demand requires. We need those services today in Wollondilly for the growing population. Pearl Buck wrote in her novelThe Good Earth:

Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.

Pearl is as right today, as she was then. Our most helpless members can be our loved ones. To that end, I thank my family for not deserting me, and for caring for me, 20 years ago. I thank the nurses, doctors and clinicians that cared for me then and care for patients today. I also thank those who helped me get Herceptin on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to raise the chances of survival for patients like me. I thank those who care and I hope through my words in this place and actions outside that I show that we can care a whole lot more.