Shingles and Postherpetic Neuralgia

I thank the member for Ryan for bringing this motion before the House and enabling us and the members who have gathered in the gallery today to learn a little bit more about this terrible , debilitating disease. 


I also want to say by way of introduction that I pay tribute to member for Shortland , who has been a strong advocate on this issue in side our party room and inside the parliament, convening several parliamentary forums over the course of this and the previous parliament on this important issue.

Postherpetic neuralgia and shingles are debilitating diseases. They create pain , they disrupt lives, they affect family relationships, they degrade our mental health and they limit our ability, particularly our ability to participate in the workforce. The debilitating pain is a burden that many Australians will face either directly or through somebody that they know and love. Treatment and management of the pain is something that Australia's world - class public and universal health system is uniquely equipped to deal with. As previous speakers have noted about one of every 100 Australians over the age of 50 have had shingles at a point in their lives. When you reach 70, it is 14 out of every 100 Australians that will suffer from the terrible virus.

Shingles is a caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox , herpes zoster , and it manifests itself in a painful rash —luckily in most cases this clears up after a few weeks. However, PHN is a complication that emerges out of shingles and causes severe and chronic nerve pain , o ften a sensation of burning under the skin. PHN is typically more likely to affect seniors. For most people with PHN the symptoms w ill c lear after about three or four months . However, an unlucky one in three people will have the symptoms for over a year. Progress can be slow and the patient treatment can be very difficult and, in fact, typically the patient remains in pain for the majority of that time. Once you have the virus, treatment is the only option—there is yet no known cure for PHN.

The most effective prevention is of course a vaccination from shingles. Australia has long managed a globally-recognised vaccination program, so we welcome the decision to place this vaccine on the national immunisation scheme. Pain management treatments for PHN can range from anti-epileptic medication, opiates, antidepressants, combination therapies, local anaesthetic patches, nerve - blocking creams and antihistamines. Clearly, the better option is an immunisation to ensure individuals do not get the disease in the first place.

We welcome on this side of the House placing this vaccine on the national immunisation scheme—it is an unequivocallygood thing. However, we cannot pretend that this decision occurs in a vacuum and is isolated from a range of other decisions affecting the health system and the health of Australians in this and the previous budget. We have talked about the importance of prevention and we are still suffering from the impacts of the government's decision to defund the Preventive Health Agency and to withdraw significant amounts of funds from preventative health programs throughout the country.

We are still suffering from the impacts of the government tearing apart Medicare—the system that puts in place universal health care in this country and the very system that many people who are suffering from PHN and shingles will rely upon to receive their ongoing treatment. This is the backbone of care for those people who are suffering with PHN today. While I am at it, if you are unlucky enough to have contracted PHN after suffering from shingles, you will require ongoing care and access to drugs and treatments that are listed on the PBS. So the government's decision to increase co-payments and to restrict access to the PBS safety net is again a retrogressive decision which will impact on this particular patient group.

I take the opportunity of this motion, which I welcome, and the decision of the government to list this vaccine, which I welcome, to ask them to revisit their decisions which impact on Australians through the PBS and that Medicare system, because this is the sort of relief that Australians will really need.