Pharmacist and Labor Member for Dobell Emma McBride has used her work at Wyong Hospital and ties with the community to highlight the issues of unemployment, poor infrastructure and social inequality in her first speech to Parliament.
“As a pharmacist—the only pharmacist in this parliament—I have had the privilege of working in health for 20 years, in mental health for 15 years and at my local community hospital in Wyong for the last decade,” Ms McBride said.
“During this time I have had a front row seat to the changes that have been happening on the coast.
“I have witnessed the area’s booming population growth first hand and the life and energy it funnels into our community.
“I have also witnessed the strain these changes can place on our infrastructure and local services—the struggle of families living in suburbs and towns and villages without the ability to support their most basic needs.
“However, this does not define who we are,” she said. “In Wyong Hospital pharmacy, despite constant pressure on the department we worked together and commissioned the cancer care pharmacy, so chemotherapy is now manufactured on site and patients like my friend Laurie can have treatment locally and discuss their concerns with expert oncology pharmacists.”
She also highlighted her work as a former Wyong Shire councillor helping local community groups host events, bringing services such as Bendigo Bank to the area and work in local sport.
Yet “sitting along the overwhelming natural beauty of the region and the energy and vitality of its people is a jarring social reality—the harsh truth of disadvantage. Unemployment and a lack of local jobs are real and persistent problems,” she said.
“The latest job figures for the Central Coast reveal that over 16% of 15- to 24-year-olds are unemployed, compared with the national rate, which sits at 12.7%. That is 16% too many.
“In an area where local jobs are limited, it is of real concern that only one in two students have the chance to finish high school.
“For the many working people who call the coast home, one in four travel outside the area for work. This daily commute can take anywhere between two and four hours. Locals will tell you it has not really improved all that much since I was young.
“As a pharmacist, too often I saw patients and those who loved them forced to make decisions that no-one should have to make about skipping medications or pathology tests because they simply could not afford to pay.
“Our young people, families and the elderly can and must be able to continue to access the best in health care rather than simply what they can afford, through universal health care in the form of Medicare and the PBS.”
Ms McBride also talked about the last 10 years of her working life, which have been spent at the Wyong Hospital and efforts from the 1950s to the 1980s to bring the hospital to the area.
“In this area of patient centred care, why are conservative governments in such a rush to retreat from public hospitals?” Ms McBride asked.
“More than balance sheets, KPIs and so-called health outcomes, public hospitals in regional areas care for our community. They offer us hope when we are sick; they provide expert care to newborns and empower new mums; they give us a safe place to stay when we need refuge; and they are the rooms where we mourn when we say our last goodbyes.”
She also highlighted the issue of mental health, pointing out that October is Mental Health Month.
“As a pharmacist, mental health worker and carer, I will use this platform so that in the future those living with mental illness and those who love and care for them will live better.
“Despite the barriers broken down, the programs launched, the modest boosts in funding, stigma persists and lives are being lost.
“As a young pharmacist I took a locum post on the other side of the world and found myself working in mental health but what made me stay was working with highly motivated and dedicated social workers, psychologists, occupational therapists, nurses and psychiatrists who, working together, each and every day could change lives.
“My firsthand experience working in health for almost 20 years is of hardworking and capable staff, who do a great job in very difficult circumstances.
“In Australia today, where you are born, where you grow up, where you live, where you work and where you age matter. The social determinants of health are now well understood; however, there is a gap between the rhetoric and the reality.”
She quoted World Medical Association President Michael Marmot: “Why treat people and send them back to the conditions that made them sick?”
Ms McBride thanked a number of pharmacists for their support, including Pharmacy Guild NSW Branch President Denis Leahy: “your work, over many decades, with those affected by alcohol and other drugs is inspiring and is saving lives,” she said.
She also thanked friends and colleagues at the Wyong Hospital and across Central Coast Local Health District, including Sue Evans, Director of Nursing and Midwifery; and to David Gilbert, Deputy Director of Pharmacy; as well as Pharmacy Guild ACT Branch president Amanda Galbraith.