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National Stroke Week

Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (12:50): I would like to thank the member for Calwell for raising this important debate today. National Stroke Week is an important time to raise knowledge about the disease that can result in stroke and education that can save lives.

I will highlight some of the shocking statistics around strokes in Australia. Every 10 minutes someone in Australia suffers a stroke. Stroke is one of Australia’s biggest killers and leading cause of disability. In one week there are almost 1,000 cases. In 2015 alone, there were over 51,000 incidents of stroke in Australia. All up, nearly 12,000 people will die this year from stroke and two-thirds of those who survive will be disabled. Stroke kills more women than breast cancer and more men than prostate cancer. Almost 440,000 Australians live as a survivor of stroke and the number grows every day. This is predicted to increase to over 700,000 within the next 15 years. In practical terms, this means that one in six people will have a stroke in their lifetime. More than just statistics, these people are someone’s wife, husband, daughter, mother, father, son, sister, brother, partner or friend. Behind the numbers are real lives.

Sixty-five per cent of those people living with stroke also suffer a disability that impedes their ability to carry out daily activities unassisted. There are thousands of carers around the country devoting their lives to improve the standard of living for people who have suffered a stroke. The friends, families and carers are not accounted for in these figures, but their lives are undeniably and irreversibly changed. This is the story of stroke in Australia. It touches millions of lives in cities and towns from the country to the coast.

As the member for Bennelong, home to the Australian headquarters of many global pharmaceutical companies, I am very familiar with the work done to treat strokes and to look after the ongoing care of people who have suffered a stroke. Some of these companies have invested significant resources into stroke research and the development of breakthrough medicines that give stroke suffers a much higher rate of recovery and a better quality of life than the previous ancient treatments.

This week has one overriding purpose: to raise awareness of strokes and the ability to recognise if someone near you is—or if you are, in fact—having a stroke. As with many deceases, early diagnosis can make a huge difference in a person’s ongoing quality of life. There is a simple acronym to help recognise the symptoms and it is worth repeating. The FAST test is an easy way to remember and recognise the signs of stroke. FAST stands for face, arms, speech and time to act. Using the FAST test involves asking simple questions. Face: check their face; has their mouth drooped? Arm: can they lift both arms? Speech: is their speech slurred? Do they understand you? Time: time is critical. If you see any of these signs, call 000 straight away.

This test has been promoted by the national Stroke Foundation since 2007 and has had some real success in raising awareness of the symptoms to watch out for. Importantly, the state which has spent the most on large public awareness programs is regularly shown to have the best awareness of the signs of stroke in Australia. Furthermore, independent analysis of Melbourne ambulance data has identified increased dispatches for stroke in the month following each FAST campaign push. Stroke awareness campaigns work and can save lives.

This brings us back to National Stroke Week—this week. There is a lifesaving message here. Sadly, many people miss out on accessing lifesaving treatment as they do not get to the hospital in time. Knowing the signs of stroke and calling 000 as soon as one strikes is crucial. Surviving strokes is common, but the subsequent quality of life is dependent on how quick the diagnosis is and how quickly you receive care. This Stroke Week is expected to see thousands of activities across Australia, from fundraising to education and awareness activities. It is also a perfect time to have a health check. Crucially, it will support this simple message: act fast. If you think you or a loved one are having a stroke, I urge you to take this action. I commend this motion to the House.