Chemotherapy Treatment

The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS (15:04): My question is to the Minister for Health and Wellbeing. Will the minister update the council on what steps the government is taking to improve the safety of chemotherapy prescribing in this state?

The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (15:04): Through you, Mr President, I thank the honourable member for his important question. As the member would be aware, in 2014 and 2015, 10 leukaemia patients receiving treatment at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and the Flinders Medical Centre were given the incorrect dosage of chemotherapy. Subsequent to the bungle coming to light, a number of reviews and investigations sought to find out what had gone wrong, why the errors hadn't been picked up sooner, why full and frank disclosure to the affected patients and families hadn't occurred and, importantly, what systems needed to be put in place to reduce the likelihood of something like this happening again.

One of those investigations is still ongoing: a coronial inquiry into the death of four of the 10 patients. Another was a select committee inquiry of this council. I acknowledge that the President, then a mere mortal member of the Legislative Council, was the Chair of that committee and the Hon. John Dawkins, I appreciate, was also a member of that inquiry. That inquiry found that the protracted time frame for the implementation of a statewide electronic system for chemotherapy protocols was 'unacceptable' and shone a light on the then Labor government's failure to implement key recommendations made in the wake of serious dosage errors that had occurred in 2008—10 years ago. Ten years ago, this was brought to the attention of the former Labor government.

When, in the wake of those earlier bungles, the then Labor health minister, John Hill, tabled a 2009 review of SA Cancer Service, he committed his government to implementing all 12 of the review's recommendations. The work to be done included procuring and implementing a statewide electronic chemotherapy system. Ten years later, we still don't have one.

This work was to be done, including procuring and implementing, as I said, the statewide electronic chemotherapy system. Money was allocated for the system—$4.2 million. Work commenced to identify a suitable provider and then the whole thing got lost, or 'subsumed' would be a better word, when EPAS came along. The money was spent, but a statewide electronic prescribing system was never put in place. One victim of the bungle has described this as 'chronic decision constipation'

If the Labor government had delivered on its promise, if a robust prescribing system had been put in place, then the underdosing of the 10 leukaemia victims in 2014 and 2015 may never have occurred. In the run-up to the state election, the Liberal Party promised to implement a statewide electronic cancer information and prescribing system. We followed up that commitment with a $5 million allocation in the state budget. Now, today, we are one step closer to cleaning up Labor's mess with a call for tenders for a statewide enterprise chemotherapy prescribing system.

The prescribing system we are putting in place will support the needs of cancer patients, both adults and children, attending any of the public hospital sites across metropolitan and country South Australia delivering chemotherapy. It will support SA Health workers at those sites by improving the safety of the entire medication management process for their patients. It will reduce the risk of adverse events relating to chemotherapy and cancer survival in South Australian public hospitals and it will improve medication safety, resulting in a reduction in errors and serious untoward events.

The tender for the prescribing system closes in the middle of January 2019. SA Health expects the successful tender will be selected in the first half of next year. I look forward to receiving regular briefings on this important project and I will be pleased to update the council on its progress from time to time. In the meantime, I hope the Marshall Liberal government's action in relation to this matter will provide some comfort to the surviving patients and family members of the underdosing bungles. We cannot undo what happened, but we must do everything we can to prevent such things from happening again.