Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (22:30): (1691) My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Health, and the action I seek is for the minister to widen the scope of the 2021–25 Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health plan to include surgical abortion and treatment for menstrual issues, endometriosis and menopause. I am really fortunate to meet with a number of stakeholders in women’s health, and they have advocated in so many areas, but many have raised concerns about the consultation paper released by the department for the SRH plan and have read the plan. I have read the plan, and I agree with them.
We are concerned that the plan is too narrow. It is focused on disease, which absolutely has its place, but the sector would like to broaden that focus to include prevention and good sexual and reproductive health across the life cycle. This is particularly important for pelvic pain issues such as endometriosis.
It takes Victorian women 6½ years to get a diagnosis of endometriosis. Many women have to visit multiple doctors until they find one who believes their pain. After the diagnosis much of the advice is, ‘Try mindfulness’, or my personal favourite, ‘Have a baby. That’ll fix it’. Pelvic pain begins in puberty and can affect women for decades of their lives. Our sexual and reproductive health plan must give a more fulsome approach to menstrual health.
Likewise, while I am happy to see a strong focus on early medical abortion, the plan does need to widen its focus to include surgical terminations and particularly to decide whether our hospital system has the capacity to deliver these services, which is why my adjournment matter for the health minister seeks his action to direct his department to broaden the scope of the sexual and reproductive health plan to include surgical abortion, information and treatment for menstrual issues, endometriosis and menopause.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan
Adjournment debate 2/12/21
Thank you for your question of 22 February 2022 regarding sexual and reproductive health.
The Victorian Government agrees that students should be relieved of the stigma, anxiety and discomfort associated with menstruation, so they can focus on their studies. That is why Victoria is the first state or territory in Australia to ensure every government school student has access to free sanitary products at school.
The $20.7 million initiative commenced in Term 3, 2019 and successfully installed dispensing machines in every government school by the end of Term 2, 2020. As part of this initiative, schools are supported to provide age-appropriate education about menstrual health. The Department of Education and Training (the department) also supports schools to ‘champion’ menstrual health by providing resources and guidance on how to promote positive menstrual health in schools. I have asked the department to consult with experts and key stakeholders on opportunities to include information on pelvic pain, including endometriosis, in an upcoming update to the department’s menstrual health resources.
The department funds a number of initiatives where secondary school students at participating schools can seek medical advice, treatment and referral for menstrual health concerns. For example, the Doctors in Secondary Schools program provides access to general practitioners for students at 100 secondary schools in disadvantaged areas. In addition, the Secondary School Nursing Program focuses on health promotion and primary prevention to improve student health, wellbeing and learning outcomes in 198 targeted schools.
Young people in Victoria can seek advice and treatment for menstrual health concerns from Nurses through the Victorian Government’s Supercare Pharmacies Initiative (Supercare Pharmacies). Twenty Supercare Pharmacies across the State deliver a nursing service offering free and timely access to health and wellness advice, support and treatment.
In March 2021 I announced that it would become mandatory for all Victorian Government schools to teach consent education in an age-appropriate way. To support schools to implement this mandate, the department has developed a Sexuality and Consent Education policy and published guidance on how to address consent in an age-appropriate way through teaching materials developed with leading experts in the sexuality and relationships education field. These resources will be updated this year following consultation with experts and key stakeholders to ensure that menstrual health education is included.
Together, these programs, investments, and resources support schools to educate young people on sexual and reproductive health.
The Hon James Merlino MP
Minister for Education
Minister for Mental Health