Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (14:23): It's alright. It's their question time. I'm happy to wait.
The SPEAKER: The leader and the member for Playford know better. The member for Hammond.
Mr PEDERICK: Thank you, sir. My question is to the minister representing the Minister for Health and Wellbeing. Can the minister—
Mr Malinauskas interjecting:
The SPEAKER: The leader is warned for a second and final time. The member for Hammond.
Mr PEDERICK: Thank you, sir. I can go all day.
The SPEAKER: Please don't. The member for Hammond.
The SPEAKER: Order!
Mr PEDERICK: Calm the farm. My question is to the minister representing the Minister for Health and Wellbeing. Can the minister provide an update on the contribution made by SA Pathology in response to COVID-19?
The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER (Morialta—Minister for Education) (14:24): I am very pleased to have this question from the member for Hammond, and it gives me an opportunity to talk about some of the great work that has been done not just by SA Health but by SA Pathology in particular. To date, and despite four tragic deaths, each one of which of course is a tragedy in its own right, South Australia has thankfully avoided the worst of COVID-19, certainly compared with jurisdictions overseas and indeed even compared with other states in Australia.
This is no time to become complacent, but the success so far in flattening the curve has been extremely encouraging. The house noted the great work of the public health officers, the health workforce, this morning without exception. It is also not a matter of luck. This is the result of strong planning and preparation to protect South Australians, working closely with other Australian jurisdictions through the national cabinet. We have followed closely the advice from the AHPPC and our own Chief Public Health Officer, Professor Nicola Spurrier, her deputies and her team.
A key part of this plan was South Australia's world-leading testing regime. Our current testing rate is 3,000 per 100,000 of our population, which is 50 per cent higher than the Australian average of 2,000 tests per 100,000 population. We know of course that, despite being 50 per cent higher than the national average, that's despite Australia being one of the highest testing countries in the world. We have also developed innovative testing techniques. We opened Australia's first drive-through testing clinic—as I understand it, only the second in the world. I think that was an absolutely outstanding achievement from all who were involved in the process.
SA Pathology has truly shown its mettle in this response, building on the reform process begun by this government. We commissioned, as members may recall, a review by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which reported in April last year. We appointed a new leadership team—Dr Tom Dodd as Clinical Service Director and Mark McNamara as Executive Director—replacing the single point of leadership of the previous model. Importantly, we engaged extensively with staff and with stakeholders.
These reforms were already delivering significantly improved services ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, on-time delivery for time critical diagnostics had risen from 66 per cent to 90 per cent, while turnaround times for non-critical diagnostics improved by 18 per cent. At the same time, SA Pathology delivered savings to the taxpayer of around $15 million, money which was then available for the COVID-19 response.
There are certain sections of the public debate where fear and anxiety have been sought to be encouraged about SA Pathology's ability to deliver services during the pandemic. The fact is SA Pathology has been in a position to demonstrate its viability and its nimbleness in responding to COVID-19 like a few other services around the world. The organisation scaled up its testing potential to be able to perform an average of around 1,500 per day during the current blitz—indeed, some days substantially more.
This is direct empirical evidence of SA Pathology's maturity as an organisation and of the success of the Marshall Liberal government's reform and sustainability project for SA Pathology. In light of SA Pathology's demonstrated commitment to reform and high-quality value for public money services, the government has committed to maintaining SA Pathology in public hands. This is just one example of the way the government's health reforms have helped South Australia prepare for the pandemic.
I congratulate the hardworking staff of SA Pathology whose dedication and expertise have driven the success and, indeed, Dr Tom Dodd and Mark McNamara in particular on their leadership and efforts on behalf of the organisation.