Parkinson's Disease

10 September 2015

Mr SPEIRS ( Bright ) ( 12:18 :58 ): I too rise today to support the member for Florey's motion which seeks to recognise those who are suffering from Parkinson's disease and the need for all South Australians to increase their awareness of those who are suffering from this disease, and for the South Australian government, also, to have an increased focus on support for those who are suffering from this disease and their families.

Mr SPEIRS ( Bright ) ( 12:18 :58 ): I too rise today to support the member for Florey's motion which seeks to recognise those who are suffering from Parkinson's disease and the need for all South Australians to increase their awareness of those who are suffering from this disease, and for the South Australian government, also, to have an increased focus on support for those who are suffering from this disease and their families.

As has already been mentioned this morning, there are approximately 80,000 sufferers of Parkinson's disease in Australia, of which around 8,000 are located in South Australia. That adds up to around 30 people being diagnosed every day in Australia with this disease. It is a disease that still remains a mystery to the medical profession in many ways. It is a disease which manifests itself in different ways, depending on the sufferer. People suffer from different symptoms and it is a disease which people find difficult to get control of and to keep a handle on. As a community, it is important that we have an increased understanding of what it means to suffer from Parkinson's disease and how we can be supportive of those people who suffer from the disease, and their families and carers.

As has also been mentioned by the member for Florey, Parkinson's sufferers are growing in number. The number of people diagnosed year on year in Australia and in South Australia continues to grow. Part of that is because diagnosis is easier and more symptoms are being recognised as being part of Parkinson's disease, but there is no doubt that, aside from better diagnosis, the number of sufferers is growing as well. That means that we as a community need to understand this disease and have mechanisms in place within our health system and within our community to provide support.

A particularly worrying trend when it comes to Parkinson's disease is the number of younger people who are being diagnosed with the disease. It has traditionally been seen as an illness which is only suffered by older people and, sadly, that is increasingly not the case, with more younger people being diagnosed with this neurological condition. Obviously, it is bad enough older people suffering from it, but the way it curtails the lives and dignity of younger people is perhaps even more significant, preventing them from potentially being part of the workforce and living life to the full.

I saw recently that a school peer of mine from Scotland announced that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease at the age of 35. Watching his journey and the uncertainty within that journey over social media was quite shocking. I continue to watch that unfold on my Facebook feed and I see the real-life impact that suffering from a disease such as this at a younger age can have.

I want to pay tribute today to the work of Parkinson's SA, led by Christine Belford. It is an excellent organisation that seeks to advocate for those with Parkinson's disease, increase awareness of the disease, raise funds to contribute to care and, in particular, for research into cures for Parkinson's disease. For those who have not had anything to do with Parkinson's SA, it is certainly an organisation that, as members of parliament, we should be looking into and looking for ways that we can raise awareness of this organisation in our communities so that those who are suffering from Parkinson's or who have family members who suffer from Parkinson's disease can be made aware of the work of Parkinson's SA, and can look to support that where possible. Parkinson's SA has annual fundraising events that can be supported.

In 2013, in the lead-up to the state election when I was a candidate for the seat of Bright, I was approached by a couple, Lindsay and Jenny White. Lindsay was the president of the Parkinson's support group of Brighton. They invited me along to their group to get to know what their group does and build a good connection with that group.

As part of getting to know what the Brighton Parkinson's Support Group does, I was able to attend a meeting with the shadow health minister at the time, Rob Lucas, and representatives from the Brighton Parkinson's Support Group at Parkinson's SA, meet the staff there and really hear their need at the time, which was the creation of additional Parkinson's specialist nurses in the South Australian health system.

We were able, entering the election campaign, as an opposition to have a policy to increase the number of Parkinson's specialist support nurses, and the government did match that. We have had a question in the house this week on that very matter. I would urge the government to fulfil that commitment in full. These support nurses are incredibly important because they come with that specialist knowledge and, as the member for Florey mentioned, they can divert people from the traditional healthcare system, keep people out of hospital, help them to manage their own illnesses, manage their symptoms, and keep control of their lives for much longer.

Having specialist nurses across a range of diseases is, I believe, an important approach to contemporary health care. We see that in action with Parkinson's nurses. We have a Parkinson's nurse operating, I believe, out of the Flinders hospital, and there is one based at Modbury. I understand the government is looking to have one who will be based in country South Australia, so that will take us to three. The government's election promise was to have four Parkinson's specialist nurses. I would urge the government, urge the health minister to continue down that path.

The health minister mentioned on Tuesday when asked that question that there was a need to ensure that nurses had the training to be able to become Parkinson's specialist nurses. We need to ensure that happens because those four Parkinson's nurses, when they are all up and running in South Australia, will make a significant impact on helping people to identify and manage the symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

I would finally like to pay tribute to the fantastic work of the Brighton Parkinson's Support Group. It is one of the largest Parkinson's support groups in South Australia. It is a very active group. It provides fellowship and community not only for sufferers but for carers of sufferers. I mentioned earlier Lindsay and Jenny White. Lindsay was Jenny's primary carer. Jenny was the sufferer of Parkinson's disease. Lindsay was actually, when I first met him, the president of the Brighton's Parkinson's Support Group.

Sadly, since the election and since I first met Jenny and Lindsay, Jenny has passed on. She was not an old woman; she died in her 60s as a result of the strain on her body of Parkinson's disease. I just want to pay tribute to Jenny and the work she did in building the Parkinson's support community in my electorate and in particular in Brighton.

I want to pay tribute to her and also to Lindsay for continuing to enhance Jenny's legacy, although not a sufferer himself of Parkinson's disease, as someone who understands the strain and the toll that it takes, by continuing his involvement in the Brighton Parkinson's Support Group. He has continued as an advocate for sufferers of Parkinson's disease. Only last week, he met me in my office to discuss the need to get these Parkinson's specialist nurses in place in South Australia's healthcare system. I want to pay tribute to Jenny White and her legacy and thank her husband, Lindsay, for continuing that legacy.

Extracted from Hansard