Non Emergency Patient Transport Amendment Bill 2021 – Second Reading
Ms ADDISON (Wendouree) (14:58): I am very, very pleased to stand up and talk about this very important legislation that we are introducing to the Parliament today, that being the Non-Emergency Patient Transport Amendment Bill 2021, because this will ensure that patient safety remains at the heart of healthcare provisions in Victoria.
As a former chair of the Ballarat Health Services quality and safety committee, it is something that I am very well versed in and very passionate about. Patient safety is at the heart of this bill, and it is something that I am very passionate about.
I would very much like to thank the Minister for Health and Minister for Ambulance Services for presenting this bill today. His hardworking ministerial office and the department, as well as doing everything with COVID, is continuing to reform our health service, which is so important—and our health system. So not only have they got one of the biggest challenges with a global pandemic, they are determined to transform and make our health system in Victoria even better.
It is really important when you do introduce new legislation, like we are today, that you really make sure that you widely consult with key stakeholders, and I am very pleased that that has occurred when it comes to this bill. The feedback that we have sought regarding this stakeholder consultation has come from first-aid providers, non-emergency patient transport providers, peak sporting bodies, local councils, the very, very mighty Victorian Ambulance Union, Ambulance Victoria and more, in addition to public forums.
We will also continue to consult with the non-emergency patient transport sector and the first-aid sector as this bill is implemented. I am always so proud to talk about health and to follow in the footsteps of our parliamentary secretaries for health, the minister for Melton and the minister for Ivanhoe, two champions of health in our caucus—they do such a great job.
I very much agree with the comments made by the member for Cranbourne, my dear friend, about the great work that they do and am in full agreement, as nearly always, with the member for Cranbourne. So that is great. Our government—the Andrews Labor government—believes strongly in prioritising the health and wellbeing of all Victorians, and today’s bill is just another part of how we are working to achieve this.
Our budget that was handed down in November last year—the 2020–21 budget—alone invests $9 billion over four years to support hospitals and local health services such as our great health service, Ballarat Community Health, to emerge from the COVID crisis stronger than ever. It is our record $7 billion health build program which will expand emergency departments and increase hospital capacity for all Victorians. And my community of Ballarat is very, very happy that $541 million is being invested in the Ballarat Base Hospital in my electorate of Wendouree. This is going to address a growing demand for regional services and ensure that the people of Ballarat can access first-class health care right on our doorstep.
That is something that I am very proud of, because people do stop me in Ballarat and say, ‘What do you do in Parliament?’, and I say, ‘We do this. We’re about health. We’re about education. We’re about jobs. We’re about transport’, and they say, ‘Well, you’re doing a good job’, and I say, ‘Thank you very much. That’s great’.
Importantly, all of this new investment that has come over the last six months in the most recent budget actually follows in the footsteps of six years of solid health investment under this government, because ever since we got elected in 2014 our Premier, a former health minister, has said we will be the best state in Victoria for health care—and that is what is happening in this state.
This bill that we are introducing today addresses key deficiencies in the original 2003 act by strengthening the licensing and regulatory framework for the sector as well as introducing regulatory oversight for the fee-charging first-aid sector. Non-emergency patient transport is a crucial component of our health system, and this is very important for Ballarat residents requiring treatment in Melbourne, including my dad, who was recently down at John Fawkner having some further surgery for his brain cancer that he is fighting at the moment. It was that service that was very important. He did not need an ambulance, but he needed a non-emergency patient transfer. He has got a terminal illness; he needs to be cared for. He was not up to Mum driving him down; he needed this service and this service was here. My family certainly is using this service, and I can recommend it.
The 20 currently registered NEPT operators in Victoria are essential for taking patients like my dad to medical appointments or to hospital, transporting them to and from home and enabling Victorians to access the care they need when they need it. This bill will provide further regulatory clarity to these providers to ensure continued quality of their services. The bill will also address the provision of first aid to the public by the up to 90 commercial providers in Victoria, introducing a three-tiered licensing system to cover the wide breadth of services that these providers deliver to our community.
Overall, the amendments within this bill seek to introduce a general duty of safety, requiring provisions of safe patient services and quality care at all times, and that is what we want not only for ourselves and for our kids but for all our loved ones and friends.
In addition to extending licensing and regulatory requirements to the first-aid sector, this bill will introduce clinical governance requirements for all NEPT and first-aid businesses, embracing the principles of best practice highlighted in that very, very important 2016 report, Targeting Zero. Further, it seeks to expand the mechanisms available to the secretary in responding to patient safety risks, allowing more immediate, flexible and measured responses, as well as providing them with the ability to approve accreditation schemes and guidelines which will apply to licence-holders.
Importantly—and I am sure the member for Melton welcomes this as well—it is going to clarify the use of the term ‘paramedic’ so that Victorians can be clear and informed about the services they are receiving. We have a fantastic course at the Australian Catholic University for paramedics, which we are very proud of. There is also a double degree, so you can do a degree in nursing and paramedicine. It is about really saying how professional and important allied health providers, paramedics, are and that they deserve to have the recognition for their skills and the qualifications that they do have—which is a great segue for me to recognise the great work of Danny Hill and the ambulance union.
Danny Hill is a champion for all his members and the members in Ballarat. A number of my friends are ambos locally, and I always love going to visit our ambulance branches and catching up with mates. Kids that I went to primary school with and kids that I went to university with are now paramedics. They are very proud paramedics, and they are very proud of this government for the support this government gives and the fact that this government ended the war on paramedics—so really, really good news.
Only 2 minutes to go, so I need to keep talking about the changes proposed in this bill, which will enshrine principles of safety and compliance in the act because, as I said at the beginning, patient safety is at the heart of the changes that we are making. This bill will make Victorians safer by setting well-defined expectations about quality and safety of patient services for the benefit of not only patients but also the sector’s workforce.
It will introduce a clear obligation for maintaining patient safety and quality care, with the secretary empowered to consider these matters when issuing or renewing licences, so if patient safety is not where it needs to be, a judgement can be made—it is not just, ‘We’ll roll it over, we’ll roll it over’, and that is so important.
This bill will also ensure that the service providers are held to the high standards of care expected of our health industry. It strengthens compliance mechanisms, including routine inspections, snap audits and tailored licence suspension protocols as well as updating penalties for regulatory breaches. And to make sure that these operators have the necessary and ongoing experience to provide the requisite level of care, they will also be expected to transport a minimum of 250 patients a year, a figure which was determined in consultation with the sector.
I would really like to take this opportunity to thank the organisations that have contributed to developing this legislation—in my last 30 seconds—not just for their help in this matter but also for the services they provide. These include first aid and non-emergency patient transport providers, peak sporting bodies, the Australian Festival Association, the Municipal Association of Victoria, local councils, the—already mentioned—Victorian Ambulance Union, Ambulance Victoria and Life Saving Victoria.
There is so much more I could talk about, but what I would really like to do is commend this bill to the house, and I wish it speedy passage.