Tuesday 2 April 2019

Hansard of the Legislative Council
 Royal Flying Doctor Service - Dental Outreach Program

[11.07 a.m.]
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, most of us have suffered the pain of a toothache - some of us even before painkillers like ibuprofen made it a little bit more bearable.  Some of us even remember those foot-operated slow drills in the pre-novocaine era ‑ shockers - and their noises.

Some of us would remember that in our schooldays most kids had decayed teeth, particularly the front ones.  I had heard you could go on the national service in England, where I planned to go, and I thought, 'Well, I won't get my teeth done here, I'll wait until I go to England'.  When I went to Wigan in the United Kingdom, I had six extractions and nine fillings done in the one session.  As young people in Tasmania, that was the state our teeth were in at that time.

Those horrific memories aside, today we are aware of the importance of dental care as part of our overall health, although governments do not seem to agree or be prepared to make dental health a part of our health system.

Beaconsfield, in my electorate, was the first location in Australia to have fluororide.  That was in 1953.  Poor dental hygiene has capacity to affect health far beyond our mouths.  Most of us can get to a dentist, although it is a financial burden for many people.

But what if you are on Flinders or King Island and you have a dental emergency?  I thank the Leader for helping to arrange a briefing with the Royal Flying Doctor Service.  In it, we heard about the new move by the service to help alleviate the situation.  Thanks very much to the chair of the RFDS, Malcolm White, for being in attendance; the CEO, John Kirwan, and also the Communications Officer, Julie Shelton, who were part of that briefing for us.  The Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia is able to help.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service has been going for more than 90 years.  Most Australians see it as a flying service for sick people in remote areas in central Australia, but things have changed, as we know.  The RFDS now uses jet aircraft and helicopters as well.  The Tasmanian section of the service started in 1960 and has been growing ever since.

Because of its service to the Bass Strait islands and other geographic considerations, the RFDS is based at Launceston Airport, which makes it nice and central for operations.  It also has an office in Hobart, where it works with Ambulance Tasmania to provide aeromedical retrieval and inter‑hospital transfer services within Tasmania and also to mainland hospitals.  There are also patient transfer facilities at a number of regional airports, including an innovative facility at Burnie's Wynyard Airport that enables aircraft to enter a shelter under its own power.
To get back to toothache, the Royal Flying Doctor Service logically supports preventative health programs, including in dental health, especially in areas far from important dental services.  The RFDS dental outreach program is doing outstanding work in the Circular Head region and in the north-east and the east coast.  Through the support of Primary Health Tasmania and in partnership with local governments like George Town, Dorset, Flinders, Break O'Day, Glamorgan Spring Bay, Huon and Tasman, the RFDS has been able to implement a primary health program working with community health professionals, including dental specialists.

Over the last four years, and particularly in the past two years, the Royal Flying Doctor Service has substantially increased its services in Tasmania.  I remember going to functions not that long ago when it had a staff of only eight people, but now with the advent of a new outlook and with John Kirwan on board, they now have nearly 50 staff in their coterie, some of whom live in the communities they support.  Most of them are well aware that dental health is a vital part of the overall health of Tasmanians.

The RFDS marked its ninetieth birthday last year.  It is still needed, not only in the Outback but also in regional Tasmania.  It might have been mentioned at our briefing, but it has been named as Australia's most reputable charity for eight consecutive years - a remarkable record.

The story of the Royal Flying Doctor Service is the story of a vision of being able to live safely in regional Australia, and a story of innovation through airborne medicine.