Canberra Meetings Update

As promised in the recent Foundation e-newsletter here is an update on the meetings I recently attended in Canberra with colleagues from the Australasian Sleep Association.

Parliamentary Seminar
On March 19 the Foundation and the ASA presented a seminar entitled “Poor Sleep: A Challenge to National Health, Productivity and Safety”. While a small meeting (parliament was in session at the time and our meeting coincided with Senator Sinidonis’ address to the Senate in which he announced he was stepping aside) it was attended by all our key senator supporters and their staff and a number of other parliamentarians. The session was recorded for circulation to parliamentary staff. The programme covered Poor Sleep: A Challenge to National Health, Productivity and Safety and was sponsored by Senators Madigan, Xenophon, Di Natale and Bilyk.

The speakers were Shantha Rajaratnam and Nick Antic from the ASA, Lynne Pezzullo from Deloitte and me. Lynne Pezzullo is the lead health economist (and a senior member) of Deloitte Access Economics, the company that performed the Foundation-commissioned analysis of the economic costs of sleep disorders.

Senator Nick Xenophon introduced the seminar while Senator John Madigan chaired the presentations and Senator Richard Di Natale led the question and answer session. Senator Catryna Bilyk provided the concluding remarks.

The seminar went very well with a great deal of interest, questions and enthusiasm for the topic at the time and in follow up since. The points that were covered included:

  • Sleep problems are very common in the Australian community, as they are in similar communities worldwide. About 10% of adults (and 5% of children) have a specific sleep disorder. At least as many again suffer from insufficient sleep because of other health problems or pressure on sleep from other priorities such as work, family and social life.
  • These sleep problems result in tiredness, impaired thinking, decreased vigilance, slower reaction times, increased moodiness and irritability.
  • These changes cause problems for health, safety, productivity, and relationships both at home and in the workplace.
  • There are substantial financial and non-financial costs associated with these problems.
  • There are viable solutions to offer these problems, including public education and, where needed, investigation of specific sleep disorders and implementation of treatments.
  • Many of these diagnostic methodologies and treatments have been pioneered in Australia and sleep science is an area in which Australia has a great translational research record.

The main immediate impact of the meeting was to inform and reinforce our key supporters, adding to the impetus provided by the parliamentary motion passed last year (attached). The need for a national awareness programme was recognised and the commitment of our supporters re-affirmed.

Meeting with Ryan Post, advisor to the Minister of Health
On March 31 Nick Antic, Shantha Rajaratnam, Maree Barnes and I met with Ryan Post, an advisor to the Minister of Health, in the Minister’s offices in Parliament House. We backgrounded him on sleep problems and their economic, health and social consequences. We made the point that this was a large but under-recognised problem. We were pleased with the level of understanding and engagement he displayed. He recognised the potential value of preventive health measures directed at improving sleep health and was interested in some specific issues related to diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders that he agreed to follow up on. He was keen to continue the dialogue, as we were. He also indicated that direct discussion between sleep clinicians and scientists and their members of parliament and senators would be helpful in raising awareness of sleep health issues in Canberra.

Overall these were useful meetings with great engagement and feedback. They are an essential beginning to what should be ongoing contact with senior politicians, advisors, administrators and consultants in Canberra.

An immediate priority is to now pursue the idea of one on one meetings of members with their members of parliament and senators about sleep health issues. We are putting together some information on the best way to pursue this and will write again soon to let you know how you can help. We must keep building the knowledge, interest and momentum.

Prof David Hillman
Chair Sleep Health Foundation