VADANZ supports federal MP’s bill for telehealth reform

Independent federal MP Kate Chaney has introduced a private member’s bill to amend the Commonwealth Criminal Code and allow telehealth to be used in the VAD assessment process.


Dr McLaren travelled to Canberra to watch Ms Chaney introduce the bill in the House of Representatives on Monday and present the VADANZ perspective. He told a press conference afterwards:

Telehealth assessments for VAD eligibility continue to be conducted in New Zealand, and other jurisdictions around the world with no evidence to suggest that this jeopardises patient safety. Every Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board in the country has recommended allowing Telehealth assessments for VAD eligibility. Legislators should listen to these experts whose primary purpose is to ensure the safe operation of VAD legislation.

VADANZ has made clear its view on this issue in its position statement:

While telehealth is now an essential part of the health care landscape, the optimal mode of delivery for some VAD service will be in-person. For example, at least one of the assessments of a person requesting VAD should be performed in-person. However, when needed to deliver timely, person-led care, telehealth is an alternative for VAD practitioners to consider.

The same high standards apply to VAD practice, regardless of whether this is providing a health service by telehealth or in-person. VAD practitioners should align with the AHPRA Telehealth guidance for practitioners which outlines the expectations for all registered health practitioners when using telehealth…

Telecommunications such as phone, email and even text messages are routinely used by pharmacy teams and nurses to provide timely information, support and advice to patients. The inability to do this adds complexity, delays and potential risks for patients.

Read the full position statement here.

The reform of the Commonwealth Criminal Code 1995 has drawn widespread support. Ben White, professor of end-of life law and regulation at the Australian Centre for Health Law Research at Queensland University of Technology said:

Our research has shown this Commonwealth law is unfair and cannot be justified. It causes harm and suffering to terminally ill patients, their families and the health professionals supporting them. This law was not intended to apply to VAD and we support the very simple change to the law so patients do not experience unfair barriers.

Tom Simpson, President of The Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia, said:

As a VAD-credentialled pharmacist myself, I know first-hand the challenges faced not just by patients, but by practitioners who want certainty that they are practicing within the law. If a doctor phones a pharmacist for advice on administering a VAD medication, the answer currently is ‘I can’t tell you that over the phone’ – an answer that puts the focus on not breaching the Code, rather than recognising that there’s a doctor and a patient at the other end of the line.

Dr Fei Sim, President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, said:

Under the current law, health professionals including pharmacists are not legally able to provide consultations to patients about VAD and VAD medicines, unless it is conducted in person. This raises significant concerns about equitable and contemporary access to care especially for people living in rural and remote areas where access to care is challenging.

This Bill will remove the regulatory barrier currently impeding doctors and pharmacists from providing contemporary care to those in need, including people accessing VAD and their families.

The success of Ms Chaney’s bill will turn on whether the Labor government allows it debate time in the Lower House. To ensure the federal  parliament understands the importance of the reform, we ask you as VAD practitioners to contact your federal member – if you haven’t already – to urge them to get behind the bill. A step-by-step guide to drafting your letter is included below.


Step-by-step for writing to your federal MP

Follow this link and click ‘members by electorate’ if you don’t know who your MP is

2 The email address format is firstname[dot]lastname[dot]
You can find further contact information and how to address them if you feel unsure here.

3 Don’t worry about making your letter overly formal. Just focus on including:
– Your address and postcode (so they know you are their constituent!)
– Who you are and why you’re qualified to speak on this issue
– A brief summary of the issue and the change you want to see
– Why this matters to you, particularly any personal views and experiences

4 Personalised letters are the most powerful. However, if you’re struggling for words here are some prompts:

  • Telehealth is compassionate care and is an important part of health delivery. It is used in other health settings that involve life and death decisions. Not being able to use it for VAD limits access to safe, high-quality care.
  • The ban particularly disadvantages people living in rural, regional and remote areas, or those who are too sick to travel.
  • If strictly enforced, all forms of electronic communication are also banned from the VAD process; scripts must be hand-delivered and healthcare practitioners cannot make phone calls to arrange VAD administration. This adds delays and stress at an already difficult time.
  • The federal law banning the use of telehealth for VAD is not a safeguard. There are already multiple safeguards within the legislation that ensure VAD is accessed only by eligible people.