Legislative Council: Wednesday, March 22, 2023


Renal Dialysis

The Hon. I. PNEVMATIKOS (15:36): I rise today to speak again on the topic of kidney dysfunction, dialysis and the disruption it creates in the lives of patients. The last time I addressed this topic I spoke of limited capacity of services when compared with the needs of patients. Today, and on subsequent occasions, I would like to share the story of different patients. Today's story is on Bob Veitch. I will continue to speak about different patients in terms of their needs of dialysis.

Bob and I share the experience of dialysis. He is 71 and, like me, he dialyses three times a week. In fact, the only reason Bob is not present in the public gallery here today is because he is dialysing right now. Bob's story is all too familiar to those who have struggled with kidney failure. Until he turned 32, Bob lived a normal healthy life. He was married with two kids, worked a physically demanding job and played football. He did not drink or smoke. This is not what people typically imagine when they think about kidney failure. Most people are unaware that significant renal failure can occur in younger people and that many of the patients dialysing are in their 20s or 30s.

Bob began dialysis in his late 30s when a biopsy revealed that his kidneys had only 15 per cent function left. He was lucky and, after six months of dialysis, he received a kidney transplant. He went back to work running his business as normal for 17 years, until his donor kidney failed and it was back to dialysis. Many would be aware that the drugs given to prevent the failure of a donor organ suppress the immune system and make one vulnerable to a host of diseases, including cancer.

Skin cancer is common in those people I have seen in dialysis. This is one of the many ways in which health issues compound and create a flow-on effect. Bob's daughter, then in her 20s, made the decision to donate her kidney to her father. After six years this kidney also failed and he was again forced into dialysis, and he has been dialysing ever since.

Dialysis creates a massive restriction on the lives of patients. Bob has spent his life in and out of the dialysis clinics in South Australia. He has not been able to participate in family holidays or in visiting regional friends and family members if the journey is longer than a day.

Dialysis is not readily available everywhere, and in places where it is, it is not likely that they will have a chair available due to local use. For instance, while travelling regional Australia, Bob has only been given a few hours' notice that a dialysis chair was available for him. When Bob attempted to travel to Mount Gambier, the town only had six chairs available, despite being the second largest city in South Australia—all were being used. When he went to Berri, there was only one chair.

A patient experiencing renal dysfunction requires dialysis services to stay alive. This is not an optional treatment, it is a necessity. The restriction on mobility for patients is profound. For many, the financial and physical burdens of travel can be insurmountable.

Kidney Health Australia operates a service called the Big Red Kidney Bus, one of the only mobile dialysis services in Australia. This bus travels the coastal and regional destinations in New South Wales and Victoria and specifically sees to the medical needs of patients who wish to travel. They can book a holiday with their loved ones and a dialysis chair on the bus.

It is often not widely appreciated that people like Bob can be tethered to dialysis for years of their life. In this situation, the personal significance of something like going on a family holiday cannot be overstated. Bob's wish is that South Australia has a Big Red Kidney Bus.

Patients have differing needs, and we need to be able to accommodate them as much as possible. Dialysis creates extreme restrictions in the lives of patients and their lifestyles, and we should not further be restricting them.