Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Public hospital cancer scanners unused

Thousands of patients are being forced to wait for potentially life-saving scans while the equipment to diagnose them sits idle in Queensland public hospitals. More than $6 million worth of state-of-the-art cancer-detecting equipment at the Princess Alexandra Hospital has not been used since being installed almost five months ago. Queensland Health's failure to attract and maintain radiography staff is being blamed for the equipment at the PA and other hospitals being under-utilised. Meanwhile, thousands of potential cancer patients and stroke victims await access to CT scanners, MRI machines and angiographic suites to detect internal bleeding, clotting and other traumas.

A Medical Radiation Professionals Group spokesman yesterday said radiographers were warning of the looming crisis because poor working conditions meant the problems were worsening. "The Health Minister has done absolutely nothing but repeatedly trotted out the industrial relations process," he said. "Tell that to patients in pain, patients suffering cancer and patients who need help today and cannot wait until tomorrow." According to the MRPG, more than 1000 patients were waiting for up to two months for diagnostic scans at the PA while the equipment goes unused.

The Royal Brisbane Hospital is suffering similar problems with the angiographic suite and gastro-internal treatment facilities on reduced working hours because of the shortage of radiographers. About 800 patients of the Gold Coast Hospital are expected to wait 10 weeks for diagnostics scans, double the wait time of 12 months ago.

The MRPG spokesman said the Gold Coast Hospital's much-touted cardiac catheter lab may have to end its 24-hour service but Health Minister Stephen Robertson flatly rejected that. "The 24-hour service is not being reduced, nor is there any planned reduction or shortage of radiographers on the Coast," he said. Mr Robertson said the number of radiographers working for Queensland Health had increased by 70 in the 12 months to June. However, he conceded there were problems with staff numbers at the PA and Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital. "Over the last four months the PA has seen an unprecedented expansion of new technology capability and they have struggled to recruit at the same rate," he said. "The RBWH is actively trying to recruit new radiographers. In the meantime, RBWH will continue to provide all urgent and emergency services."


Teachers' union sets up Communist Cuba as an example

They can't help wearing their hearts on their sleeves

A South Australian teachers' union journal has praised the achievements of Cuba's education system, saying class sizes are small, schools are free and teachers well-trained. The Australian Education Union has defended the publication, just days after federal Education Minister Julie Bishop claimed school curriculums had been distorted by "Chairman Mao" type ideologies of state bureaucrats.

Former union organiser and journal editor Dan Murphy said the communist island under the regime of Fidel Castro had a 100per cent literacy rate, higher than Australia's. "For a poor, underdeveloped country, they've achieved quite well and nobody can deny that," said Mr Murphy. "It (the article) doesn't shirk away from other issues like requiring teachers to reinforce communist values. But it's not a piece of propaganda out of Miami; it covers other facts you don't strictly get." AEU state president Andrew Gohl yesterday endorsed the South Australian teachers union article, saying: "The fact that (Cuban) education is free, compulsory and funded significantly by the Government is something all governments should aspire to".

The chief source of information for Mr Murphy's August feature was Havana-based Gilda Chacon, a trade union official from the Cuban Federation of Workers. She visited Adelaide in July and was partly sponsored by the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, for which Mr Murphy previously worked. "I think it's a balanced investigation into the available evidence on Cuba," he said.

The AEU also published a letter to the editor from student teacher and Communist Party of Australia member Craig Greer in its latest issue. Mr Greer wrote that the federal Government "still can't find enough money to mirror a fraction of what the Cuban Government has achieved". "If Cuba is a dictatorship, then I'm ready to be dictated to."

The debate follows claims last year by senior NSW education adviser Wayne Sawyer that the education profession was to blame for the re-election of the Howard Government. Students had voted for John Howard because English teachers had failed to teach them critical thought, he argued.

After calling last week for a national curriculum, Ms Bishop said yesterday that parents wanted ideology to be taken out of the classroom. "We need to focus on a commonsense curriculum with high, nationally consistent standards that reflect the values of the community," she said.

The US State Department, in a report on Cuba last year, said all elementary and secondary school students received "obligatory ideological indoctrination".

Cuban-born journalist and author Luis Garcia said Cuba's education system was "heavily politicised" and not an example Australia should follow. "The purpose of education (in Cuba) is not just to teach how to read and write and understand complex issues but essentially it has become a defender of the Castro regime," Garcia said.


University makes students re-study High School mathematics

James Cook University has forced more than half its first-year science and engineering students to sit a high-school-level maths course. The Queensland university revealed yesterday it had become so frustrated by falling standards among high school graduates, and confused by a lack of parity between states, that it joined Wollongong University and the Australian Defence Force Academy in conducting a maths exam of its own design on first-year science and engineering students.

James Cook head of maths, physics and information technology Wayne Read said less than half the Queensland students passed. He said the university this year allowed 190 students to proceed with advanced mathematics but forced 250 to complete a "lookalike" high school Maths B course run by the university. Of the 250 compelled to do the "lookalike" course, an estimated 20 per cent had already done Maths B at high school. "There has certainly been a decline in the (mathematical) abilities of students when they enter university," said Professor Read, who has been an academic since 1987. "That decline started in the early 1990s."

The revelation came as a senior defence force lecturer backed federal Education Minister Julie Bishop's call for a national curriculum, and teachers in Western Australia bemoaned a continuing decline in the mathematical abilities of high school entrants. The debate about falling maths standards and inconsistencies between states comes as a federal parliamentary committee prepares to release its findings on the nation's education and training standards.

The West Australian Curriculum Council yesterday denied that the state's maths curriculum had slipped behind other states, despite a comparison published in The Weekend Australian showing the mathematical abilities required of students in Western Australia were well below national standards. "The WA maths curriculum is consistent with curricula set in other states across Australia. It has not slipped behind any other states," a spokeswoman for the Curriculum Council said.

But pressure group People Lobbying Against Teaching Outcomes said the abilities of first-year high school students in Western Australia had declined. PLATO spokesman Greg Williams said many Year 8 students did not have a grasp of basics such as fractions, multiplication and percentages.

Australian Defence Force Academy lecturer Steve Barry, who teaches high school graduates from across the nation at the academy's School of Physical, Environmental and Mathematical Sciences, called for a national curriculum. "It is my opinion that the absence of a uniform Australian mathematics curriculum at high school is detrimental to students from some states, particularly those who then travel interstate to enter university," he said.


Tiny but dangerous octopus

Anthony Cerasa was back to his normal self yesterday after a frightening brush with a deadly creature. Anthony, who turns 4 next month, was playing in shallow water at Suttons Beach, Redcliffe, when the poisonous octopus crawled on his hand. He got out of the water and showed his mother Jane Moss, before he put it back into the bay. Within five minutes, he was vomiting and unable to move.

Ms Moss, who runs a fish shop at Hawthorne on in Brisbane's eastern suburbs with her partner Laurie Cerasa, said if Anthony had not shown her the octopus, they may not have realised what had happened. "It was small and grey and it was no bigger than his hand. It didn't change colour - it wasn't blue - and it looked like something we'd sell in the shop," she said. The blue lined octopus is a close relative of the more famous blue ringed octopus that is prevalent in southern coastal waters.

"Immediately after vomiting he went quite floppy, so he wouldn't have been able to get out of the water," Ms Moss said. "We were very lucky." Yesterday, with only Bandaids and some tiny marks on his hand to show for his ordeal, Anthony showed no ill-effects.

Anthony's father, a professional fisherman, said he was well aware of how close his family had come to tragedy. Mr Cerasa said his family often went to Suttons Beach and would not be deterred in the future. "I just want to point out you have to be very cautious," he said. "These (blue lined octopuses) actually look like any other octopus until you antagonise them."

Redcliffe Mayor Allan Sutherland said the poisonous creatures were prevalent off the Redcliffe coast, but bites were extremely rare. Cr Sutherland said the matter would be discussed at a Redcliffe City Council meeting last night, with warning signs at beaches and education at local schools two measures to be considered.


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