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Estimates: Harm reduction, OST and needle & syringe programs in Qld Prisons

During Parliamentary Budget Estimates on Thursday 29 July 2022, I asked Queensland Health Department staff about hepatitis in Queensland prisons and potential harm reduction measures including opioid substition therapy (OST) and needle and syringe programs (NSP). 

You can read the answers below or in the official Queensland Parliament Record of Proceedings (Hansard).

Mr BERKMAN: Thanks very much, Chair, and thanks to everyone for your time today. I will put my first question to the director-general, if I could please. I ask this against the backdrop of yesterday being World Hepatitis Day, for what it is worth. I understand that approximately 85 per cent of hepatitis transmission in Queensland right now occurs in prisons. Has the department assessed how this level of transmission could be reduced through the introduction of harm reduction initiatives, including a needle and syringe program and widespread availability of opioid substitution therapies in prisons?

Mr Drummond: I am sorry, I do not have information on that matter in front of me. I cannot answer. I have only recently been the director-general. There may well be activity going on on that, but it is not something that I have been currently briefed on.

CHAIR: Member for Maiwar, if we can try to stick with the Appropriation Bill in front of us. I understand where you are coming from on that. Do you have a supplementary question?

Mr BERKMAN: I have. Before I move on, though, I might ask the director-general this: my understanding is that this is something that is dealt with through the Clinical Excellence division of the department. Is that perhaps a question that could be referred to one of the other very many public servants who are available here at the hearing today?

Mr Drummond: I would be very happy to call Dr Helen Brown, who is the acting deputy director-general of Clinical Excellence Queensland.

Dr Brown: Yes, there is a number of opioid substitution programs currently available across our correctional facilities in Queensland. At present we do not have a needle exchange program, but it is
something that has been considered. On the specific question with regard to hepatitis C I would have to get further detail, but my understanding is that we do have availability of testing and that there is
availability of treatments as well for our incarcerated consumers in Queensland.

Mr BERKMAN: Thank you. Director-General, given that answer, is this work that the department has identified as a priority for its work with Corrective Services over the coming year, or is there funding
allocated to expand these programs in the coming years?

Mr Drummond: I will ask Dr Brown to answer that.

Dr Brown: What we actually get is base funding per consumer, as opposed to specific programs, and then we have to try to make that fit where we can. Obviously there is a multitude of different medical
conditions across our corrective services that have many priorities and we are trying to address each of those.

Mr BERKMAN: Thank you very much for the response.

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