Profession rallies to help flood victims
THE RACGP and AMA have mustered their resources to provide support for flood-affected doctors in Queensland and other states. AMA Vice-President Dr Steve Hambleton (pictured left) has fronted the media several times to explain some of the health problems people in flood areas will encounter. (Photo courtesy of Dr Hambleton)
The RACGP has established a Policy and Practice Support Unit to offer advice, support and further information. It estimates almost 1000 RACGP members either live or work in a Queensland postcode that has been flood affected and many more members are flood affected in NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. The RACGP helpline is 03 8699 0596 or email

Information is also available at

AMA Queensland has been overwhelmed with offers from members wanting to assist and support colleagues affected by the floods. It has established a Flood Medical Response Team, which is working closely with Queensland Health to coordinate assistance. President-elect Dr Richard Kidd said the Team consists of local doctors getting together to help each other, flood victims and their communities. “Those family doctors who are able to keep their practices open to assist flood victims with urgent medical needs are being identified and other doctors and nurses may be able to assist them,” Dr Kidd said. Doctors who can help should email to register their details.

Floods bring major health threats
FLOOD-affected Queenslanders face a range of waterborne diseases and lengthy elective surgery delays as floodwaters recede, The Australian reports. AMA vice-president Dr Steve Hambleton warned of serious health risks to come, including mosquito-borne diseases such as Ross River virus, dengue fever, Murray Valley encephalitis and Barmah Forest virus. Rat-carried bacterial infections such as leptospirosis were also a risk, while melioidosis — an infectious disease usually found in the tropical Northern Territory — could make its way south. Dr Hambleton warned there could be elective surgery delays of up to 6 months in parts of Queensland as doctors focused on more immediate health concerns.

Pertussis numbers double
AUSTRALIA has recorded the highest number of whooping cough cases in almost two decades, ABC News reports. Last year, nearly 34 000 Australians had pertussis, more than double the number in 2008 and the most since records began in 1991. Experts say the rise is due to the cyclical nature of the illness, better and increased testing for the disease and possible changes to the strain.

Drug combo best for hypertension
A NEW study suggests a combination of drugs is better than a single one in treating high blood pressure, BBC News reports. The research, published in the Lancet, found starting treatment with aliskiren and amlodipine gave better and faster results with fewer side effects than single use of the drugs. The approach challenges conventional medical practice of giving one drug, then adding another later if blood pressure stays high. Patients given the combination of drugs had a 25% better response during the first 6 months compared with those on conventional treatment, the study found. Aliskiren, a renin inhibitor, is not marketed in Australia.

Cancer screening program lapses
THE lapse of a bowel cancer screening program will cost lives, Cancer Council Australia chief executive Professor Ian Olver has warned, The Age reports. Funding for the program, under which people aged 50, 55 and 65 were mailed a testing kit, expired on 31 December. “There is no doubt that, with the lapse of the bowel screening program, people will die of bowel cancer whose lives could have been saved by a screening program that detected early cancers or pre-cancerous polyps,” Professor Olver said. A spokesman for the Health Minister said the government would consider future funding for the program in the 2011 Budget.

Interns need more formal training
AMA NSW wants public hospitals to set aside 20% of time in medical graduates’ internship year to allow them to take part in formal training programs, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. The demand, which would severely strain a public hospital system heavily reliant on junior doctors to staff unpopular shifts, is among a series of claims in relation to medical training that the association is putting to both political parties before the March state election.

Call for input on e-health records
AUSTRALIANS will have a chance to shape the nation’s $467 million electronic health record system, The Australian reports. Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon has agreed to release confidential plans on the operating concepts for the personally controlled e-health record as a discussion paper for public consultation “soon”. The government’s “personally controlled” approach to a nationwide system for sharing patients’ medical records has caused much confusion since it was announced a year ago.

New disease screening test
A NEW genetic test could soon allow couples to be screened for hundreds of recessive childhood diseases to help prevent passing them on to their offspring, The Age reports. American researchers reported in Science Translational Medicine that the new test was capable of detecting 448 inherited conditions such as cystic fibrosis, fragile X-syndrome and sickle-cell anaemia.

Prison needle program supported
ACADEMICS, health experts and former politicians have lent their support to the trial of a needle and syringe program in Australian correctional facilities, ABC News reports. The list of names features in a newspaper advertisement paid for by the independent, non-profit drug policy group Anex, to coincide with a debate about introducing a needle program in Canberra’s Alexander Maconochie Centre. Anex chief executive John Ryan says until authorities can eliminate drugs from prisons, they have a duty of care to minimise the spread of blood-borne diseases within these facilities.

Super-sized ambulances
IN a super-sized world, it was perhaps inevitable: Boston’s Emergency Medical Services this month will begin deploying an ambulance equipped with a hydraulic lift to ease transport of the heaviest patients, the Boston Globe reports. The ambulance retrofitting, which cost about US$12,000, bears testament to the increase in morbidly obese patients and the wrenched backs and necks sustained by emergency medical technicians and paramedics straining to lift them. Most weeks, Boston rescue crews ferry 2-4 patients weighing at least 450 pounds (204 kilograms).

Posted 17 January 2011


2 thoughts on “Health headlines: our top ten

  1. Astounded says:

    A New breed of opportunism:
    As flood water rose around Brisbane, our small privately owned pathology Lab received a call. It was purportedly from a doctor who was enquiring whether we would still be able to do collections and reporting for the duration of the floods.
    As a small company we had already contacted our referrers. We instructed staff to take numbers down (from the phone display screen) of any doctor enquiring about our services. On the day following the flood water receding we phoned every referrer and the phone number of the concerned doctor who had rung before the inundation of Brisbane.
    The phone number turned out to be the phone number of a major corporate pathology company. They weren’t ringing out of concern. Why were they ringing? Was it to take our business?
    It left us and our staff utterly stunned that they would engage in such flagrant opportunism. It was a despicable low act and it leaves me wondering whether this was a directive given by the higher echelons to behave in this opportunistic way.
    Shame on them.

  2. Disillusioned GP says:

    More important than all the fine words & ideals is how we practise the art of medicine.
    For most GPs a proper audit & understanding of the draconian legislation & the manner in which the PSR laws/rules operate are extremely important. GPs make up more than 90% of the victims & are mostly judged purely on a subjective opinion re their “paperwork” applied very strictly to the Item descriptor. Heavy fines are extracted under the guise of “inappropriate practice” & under threat of being “named & shamed” & subjected to further torment by a Committee that averages >670 days to completion with the amazing success rate of nearly 100%. The doctor is not allowed any independent medical representation. Do the few who pass the test get paid for their time?
    The PSR criteria are very subjective & the power of the Director & Committee is enormous. All MDOs find outcomes very unpredictable & seeming to depend on the whim of the PSR. The majority of doctors in all recent surveys have little faith in the system. How did this happen & on what grounds — is it the PSR or Medicare? Under Dr Holmes there was not such controversy & lack of faith in the system.
    The Director’s contract described in the Annual Report has a substantial performance bonus despite resolution taking longer & only collecting about $5M for about a $7M expenditure.
    The appointment of the Director & Committee members should be very closely scrutinised especially by GPs as their activities & opinions have a huge effect on the ability to practise medicine.
    The PSR terms of reference & operational criteria are vital as they determine behaviour & actions.
    The recent need to disband all the Committees shows how “gung ho” the PSR has become — if we doctors were that careless in the detail of our practice we would be most severely punished by the PSR & probably be reported to the Medical Boards. Who pays the doctors who are “part heard” & have to start again? It all takes a lot of time. How much money was wasted paying the staff, Committee members, etc for the aborted hearings? Who is responsible? What excuses now? I expect all involved will want to be reappointed as I am told the pay is very good.
    The recent behaviour of the PSR is a major concern to the practise of medicine in Australia & must be properly addressed. If not doctors will find out how Draconian it is if they are “called upon”. Very few of the “guilty” are dishonest doctors. I am a 40-year service GP & have been there & found the whole process unfair, unjust & punitive. We get singled out by Medicare & quietly “executed” by the PSR as most doctors are embarrassed at being investigated by the PSR. We must share our experiences & determine what is happening & what is the “real agenda” that seems to try to intimidate doctors & other health professionals. The PSR does NOT set the standards for medical practice in Australia.

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