MS PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (13:58:02): My question is for the Minister for Health. At a recent voluntary assisted dying information session the chair of the government’s implementation taskforce stated that two GPs could not complete the certification process as one of them must be a ‘specialist in the terminal disease under consideration’. That advice is not in fact what the act says. It says that at least one of the two doctors must have relevant experience and expertise in the particular terminal illness—not that they must be a specialist. A GP can have relevant experience and expertise in some conditions. Most terminal diseases that will come up for consideration will be malignancies, heart complications or neurodegenerative diseases, leaving a very limited number of doctors termed as ‘specialists’ available for an opinion. My question is: knowing that officials in charge of this process are using their own understanding of the wording in the act, how will you ensure that the legislation is being interpreted correctly?
Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan—Minister for Health, Minister for Ambulance Services) (13:59):I thank the member for her question. I know she has been very busy today doing a bit of media around the assisted dying scheme. The assisted dying scheme, members would be aware, is commencing soon—in fact in a few weeks time, on 19 June—and there has been a great deal of work undertaken in the 18 months since the legislation passed the Parliament to ensure that we get every aspect of the implementation right. I want to pay credit to and acknowledge the support of members present who supported this groundbreaking legislation that will enable Victoria to be the first jurisdiction in Australia to give patients in those very difficult circumstances the choice around end-of-life care, not taking away in any way from other choices that will continue to exist for patients. If you look at the state budget handed down last week, we have put in a very significant amount of funding for palliative care, which will continue in all likelihood to be the end-of-life choice that the vast majority of people will continue to make. As part of the implementation a number of navigators have been employed that are available to patients but also to clinicians to make contact with and seek advice from about medical practitioners in their locality who have undertaken the requisite training and have the requisite expertise to assist them with these decisions. In fact I am pleased to inform the member that there has been a considerable increase in the number of clinicians who have been undertaking the relevant training in recent weeks. As we are getting closer to the start date, I guess the interest has been heightened, and I think there will continue to be continued interest amongst clinicians, even once this has commenced. I think over the period of time we will see more and more uptake around these issues. I think it is absolutely important that people are given information that is accurate. There has been a vast array of resources and tools that have been prepared to support both patients and their family members and clinicians with these issues, including videos, the member might be aware, that have been produced. So I am very happy to sit down with the member and have a discussion about specific concerns that she might have, because the last thing I want to be— (Time expired)
MS PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:02:20): Thank you, Minister, and I absolutely concur: the work that has been done in this last 18 months has been really great. In attending that implementation conference I was greatly impressed by the careful consideration that has been made. But just going back to that point: the information does say that it must be a specialist and cannot be two GPs. I would ask the minister if she is able to seek some clarification on that, because as we all know, we spent many hours dissecting this legislation very carefully. It was scrutinised, as many of us remember, at great length and in great detail, and I think in actual fact that was very helpful. A lot of it was very helpful—let us just say that. My further question is: how will the secretary in charge of the voluntary assisted dying process establish that one of the two certifying doctors has relevant experience and expertise in the terminal illness, which is what the act says, rather than being a specialist?
Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan—Minister for Health, Minister for Ambulance Services) (14:03): There is a review panel that, the member would be aware, will be examining these matters after the event, and that is to ensure that there is demonstrated expertise. A second GP would need to be able to demonstrate required specialised experience. I am very happy to sit down with the member to have a discussion around where different information is circulating around these issues, because I think it is really important. This is why I guess I am being very cautious in what I am saying about these matters, so that we do not have misinformation circulating about the implementation and the operation of this legislation. I am very happy to examine what more can be done in this space and, if there is any further guidance that needs to be provided, to have a look at what further advice needs to be provided to clinicians working in this field. So I undertake to have a discussion with the member in relation to these issues that have arisen.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Question without notice asked 4/6/19