Community and caring

We profile pharmacists who are standing for Parliament in the 2019 Federal election. First we speak to current MP, Emma McBride

Candidate profile: Emma McBride
Party: Labor
Seat: Dobell, NSW (sitting member)

For Emma McBride, there’s a natural harmony between pharmacy and politics: they’re both about helping others.

Ms McBride is the first female pharmacist—and the first hospital pharmacist—to be elected as a federal MP, and the Labor Party is in her blood.

She’s the daughter of the late Grant McBride, who represented the seat of The Entrance in the NSW Parliament between 1992 and 2011; and she told the AJP that it was Labor policies which enabled family members to spend their lives in the service of their communities.

“My Dad grew up in public housing west of Sydney, and it’s because of the Labor Party policies around higher education that both my parents were able to have an education,” Ms McBride says.

Her father became a structural engineer before entering politics, and her mother a primary school teacher; Ms McBride was also influenced by her grandmother, who “like many women of a certain generation was smart and capable, but didn’t have the opportunity for an education” and became a lifetime member of the Labor party before her death.

She told the AJP that for her father, “every day he was able to represent our community was a real honour for him, having grown up in such difficult circumstances,” and Ms McBride grew up with an understanding how taking action in the political process is key in changing lives for the better—not just for those involved, but for the wider community.

Helping others

The desire to help others was why she became a pharmacist. Ms McBride has spent most of her career as the specialist mental health pharmacist at Wyong Hospital, becoming chief pharmacist at the facility.

“A role as a pharmacist, in any setting, is one where you’re day-to-day working with people, with patients and carers and family,” she says.

“For me, and I think for most pharmacists, it’s something we find personally very fulfilling and professionally very satisfying. When reflecting on people I trained with or worked with, it seems to be right across our profession.

“At Wyong, I really saw the strain our hospital system was under,” she says. “I was chief pharmacist and responsible for providing the pharmacy service to the whole hospital—and as the specialist mental health pharmacist, clinically I was working with some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

“And sometimes, you need to step into a different space in order to solve some of these persistent, stubborn problems. My background as a pharmacist, working in the local hospital and the mental health unit, is what compels me to stand up and try to change things.

“Labor, for me, is about caring for other people.”

Community focus

As part of Ms McBride’s work in public life, she is the patron of the local Central Coast Dementia Alliance; in early April the area became recognised as a dementia-friendly community. Dementia is an area of both health and policy that she’s passionate about, having lost her father to Alzheimer’s Disease at the early age of 68.

“It’s a national health priority—but it’s one thing to be listed, and another to be properly funded, and that’s something I will continue to strive for, and I’ll advocate for boosting and improving dementia services. It’s the leading cause of death for women and the second-leading in men, and yet there still seems to be a stigma about it, a lack of proper support.”

Helping the country’s thousands of carers is another. “There’s about 30,000 people on the Central Coast each day caring for somebody else—I’m told most electorates would have 10,000 people each day caring for others, and they often feel invisible.

“A woman I doorknocked yesterday was saying that her husband had been approved for home care, but the waiting list was six to 12 months,” Ms McBride says. “He’s in hospital at the moment and she’s worried that they won’t be able to safely bring him home, because they won’t have the supports in place.

“In places like the Central Coast there is such a shortfall in services, and that makes it risky for them to come home—yet most people’s choice would be to be cared for at home.

“The NDIS currently has over 700 people on the waiting list here for home care packages—it’s an urgent problem. It’s a crisis.”

Areas with a lot of social disadvantage, including regional areas like the Central Coast, are particularly affected, she says.

“The further away you are from metropolitan areas, the fewer the services, the longer the waiting lists.

“These are the day-to-day struggles people experience. And hopefully, some good can come from my experience, and I can help other people in similar situations.”

Putting yourself out there

She says that she hopes more pharmacists will consider putting up their hands for a role in political life.

“Pharmacists are essential to our communities, and we’re very aware of the needs and challenges of people in those communities.

“I think our background and our training lends itself well to representation in public life—whether as a local councillor, as I started out, or contesting state elections or the federal election. Pharmacists have a lot to offer—our health background, but also our understanding and connection with our communities, more broadly.

“My ambition is to do all I can for the Central Coast community, and to make sure those people who are currently on waiting lists for home care packages, or struggling with the NDIS get the help they need.”

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