Monday, September 24, 2007

Rudd shooting from the lip on hospitals

Kevin Rudd's $2 billion plan to fix public hospitals is in danger of unravelling. New figures compiled by the Federal Department of Health and Ageing reveal a central pledge, to create 2300 aged-care beds to relieve pressure on acute-care places in hospitals, is based on a false premise.

Mr Rudd has sold the plan on the basis that aged patients are taking up hospital beds that should be used for more urgent medical cases. But previously unpublished departmental figures reveal there are more than 400 aged-care beds available that are not being used by the states. They also show that the Labor premiers -with whom Mr Rudd has pledged to co-operate to fix the hospitals crisis and end the so-called "blame game" - have in many cases reduced the number of acute-patient beds they provide in hospitals. In Queensland, there has been a 4.5 per cent reduction in beds, in South Australia the figure is down 3.2 per cent, while the ACT has a whopping 18.8 per cent shortfall.

The period covered is between 1996 and 2005. Over the same period, the Commonwealth increased the number of aged care beds by almost 33 per cent - to the extent that 406 such beds are currently empty. As late as last week Mr Rudd declared: "Tonight across Australia, 2300 people will be in acute hospital beds that have already been classified to go into an aged care home. Why aren't they going into an aged care facility? Mr Howard's Government, which has total responsibility, has not provided them."

Federal Minister for Ageing Christopher Pyne told The Sunday Mail the new figures showed Mr Kudd's hospitals plan was flawed: "Kevin Rudd's aged care and health policies don't stack up because they are based on a false premise. The fact that the existing transition-care program is under-utilised by the states to the tune of 400 out of 2000 places gives the lie to the idea that there are thousands ofelderly people in hospitals who should be in aged-care facilities."

Mr Rudd suffered two embarrassing setbacks last week: he was unable to nominate when certain tax rates cut in, and claims about an alleged Government "dirt unit" backfired when he couldn't produce evidence.

The above article by Glenn Milne appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on September 23, 2007

Panic measures over police shortage

TRAFFIC police, detectives, child-protection and tactical crime squad officers could be sent to respond to emergency calls if no general-duty crews are available. Police Minister Judy Spence and Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson announced a new priority policing policy yesterday to address first-response policing problems statewide. It followed last week's Sunday Mail report on a crisis in first-response policing and the recent police failure to respond to an emergency call-out to a Southport home three hours before a woman died, allegedly stabbed to death by her son.

Ms Spence said if there was a noisy party with gatecrashers that got out of control, all available police on duty on a particular shift should be able to attend. "If, for example, there is an increase in routine police calls in a division, police resources from other divisions or from operational areas, including traffic branch, inquiries office, tactical crime squad or the CIB, will be allocated tasks to assist," Ms Spence said.

She said the Queensland Police Union and senior officers were in favour of the move. But she added: "I think many police will find it very difficult to take on general duties roles." Ms Spence also announced the police service would examine a system where officers currently not working in general duties' first-response policing could be tasked to the beat for a period of time each year. It follows a request from the Police Union that all non-operational police, from inspectors down, be required to work 10 days a year on frontline duties. The proposal is based on the West Australian police's Frontline First - Community First policy.

Police Union acting president Denis Fitzpatrick said he was disappointed that the Minister and Commissioner had not committed to the proposal. "We believe that this would be an enormous benefit during major events such as Indy or Schoolies, and give senior, desk-bound officers some contemporary exposure to the real world of policing on the front line," Mr Fitzpatrick said. "It would also demonstrate leadership and understanding of the problems being experienced by ordinary police and lift morale significantly."

Commissioner Atkinson also has been asked by the union to audit administrative functions to see if civilians could free up officers to return to active duties. The police service also is considering increasing the compulsory retirement age of senior police from 60 to 65 years, but has denied it is to bolster police numbers. The QPS says it expects about the same number of officers who resigned in 2006-07 - 350 to 360, or about 3.5 per cent of the force - to quit in 2007-08.

More than 120 people - mostly serving or ex-Queensland police - responded to a Sunday Mail online survey last weekend, asking whether the state had enough police. Most expressed concerns over police numbers, especially in first-response roles.


Melbourne hospital dubbed 'the killing fields'

A KEY Melbourne hospital has been labelled "the killing fields" at a high-level meeting of doctors. The damning indictment on the health system is revealed in a letter from a leading doctor to Premier John Brumby, obtained by the Sunday Herald Sun. In the letter Dr Peter Lazzari reveals how Maroondah Hospital has become known as "the killing fields", as it is forced to rely on under-trained doctors to manage life-and-death cases.

Dr Lazzari, chairman of the medical staff at Angliss Hospital, wrote to the Premier demanding action. In the letter, he says: "All the chairs of medical staff of Victoria's major public hospitals at the August meeting at AMA House were appalled to hear the Maroondah representative speak gravely of his hospital's reputation among doctors on rotation as the "killing fields".

Opposition health spokesman Helen Shardey said: "If we have doctors making these sorts of claims, the Government can no longer turn a blind eye."

But Maroondah Hospital general manager Zoltan Kokai categorically refuted the claims. The hospital was recently been accredited by the Australian Council of Health Care standards and its doctors were credentialed in accordance with Eastern Health policy and registered with the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria, he said.

But Paul Hoek knows how things can go wrong in the hospital system. The 41-year-old truck driver broke his leg more than a year ago, but is still off work. When his plaster cast was removed 12 weeks after his initial operation at Maroondah Hospital, he was left with a painful, gaping wound near his ankle. Ten months later that wound has not healed. The initial operation saw 18 screws and a plate inserted in his leg but months later Mr Hoek was still complaining about pain in the leg. He says it took more than 30 visits before he was taken seriously and doctors discovered five screws holding his fracture together had broken and the plate was protruding out of his skin. "I am furious," Mr Hoek, of Lilydale, said. He said he was on a disability pension and struggling financially.


Imaginary allergies and illnesses

I am myself aware of certain women whose health problems vanished when their relationships improved

MORE than five million Australians are suffering "imaginary" food allergies and intolerances, health experts say. Research shows food allergies have become society's new "'fad", with people suffering the symptoms - including rashes, breathing difficulties and stomach cramps - simply because they want to. "The brain is very powerful and can make people react because they think they are going to react," said Jack Bell, a specialist allergy dietitian at the Royal Brisbane Hospital and clinical lecturer in nutrition and dietetics at Queensland University of Technology.

His opinion is backed by research by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Another study carried out in Britain reached similar conclusions.

Figures show up to six million Australians claim to be allergic to foods ranging from milk to mustard - but only one in eight has had the condition medically diagnosed. Mr Bell warned people against diagnosing themselves with an allergy, saying it could lead to eating disorders, vitamin deficiences, unnecessary use of medication and costly medical bills. "It's not uncommon to see people on highly restricted diets that they don't need to be on because they don't actually have an allergy," he said.

Researchers said the latest food allergy to become "popularised" was an intolerance to monosodium glutamate (MSG). Others include milk, eggs, soya beans, wheat, fish, and even an intolerance to fruit and vegetables.

A food allergy is an immune system response to a food that the body mistakenly believes is harmful, and an intolerance occurs when the body finds it hard to digest a particular type of food. An intolerance is harder than an allergy to diagnose because it can take varying amounts to achieve a reaction and it is affected by other factors such as stress and hormones. With an allergy, only a small amount of food is needed for a reaction.

Brisbane nutritionist Anthony Power urged people to seek a medical diagnosis. "There is also a tendency for people to panic unnecessarily and think they have one when really it's just a bit of bloating after a meal," he said. People are advised to see an immunologist or accredited practising dietitian.


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