Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Four current reports below

Cash boost no health cure

ABOUT 4000 people on Queensland's elective surgery waiting lists will have their treatment fast-tracked by a Rudd Government cash injection. But it could be weeks before anyone determines who will benefit from the extra money, the first tranche in the delivery of Federal Labor's election campaign health pledges. Under the plan thrashed out between the federal and state governments in Brisbane yesterday, Queensland will receive the $27.6 million it asked for to help shift its backlog of 35,000 patients waiting for elective surgery.

State Health Minister Stephen Robertson said the first of the extra surgeries would begin within a month and include ear, nose and throat, neurological, ophthamological, orthopedic, urological and vascular procedures. But the Australian Medical Association cautioned there were 8600 people waiting longer than they should.

The funding to tackle Queensland's notoriously stubborn surgery waiting lists is part of $150 million offered by Treasurer Wayne Swan yesterday as a downpayment on the Rudd Government's four-year, $600 million health funding plan. It is also the fifth attempt since November 2005 to clear waiting lists by injecting extra funds into the public hospitals system.

But Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon said "fruitful negotiations" yesterday provided new hope and she was "very confident, if today is any sign, that we will be able to work well for the benefit of all of the country"....

Queensland Treasurer Andrew Fraser said the funding would be used to target those patients waiting longer than clinically recommended for their elective surgery. The latest quarterly public hospitals performance report shows 35,061 patients sitting idle on elective surgery waiting lists.

AMA Queensland president Dr Ross Cartmill cautiously welcomed the announcement. "It is more expensive to treat people in the private sector, so fewer people will be able to be treated," Dr Cartmill said. "It is good news that there is the potential to treat around 4000 people but we should bear in mind we are still talking about a small number."


Nurses offered cash to come back

No word about improving their absurdly overstretched working conditions

QUALIFIED nurses no longer working in the health system will be given financial incentives in a bid to lure them back to work, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has said. The $87 million scheme aims to attract 7750 of the 30,000 nurses across Australia not currently working back to the profession within five years. Under the plan, cash bonuses of $6000 will be available to nurses who return to the health workforce after being out for more than a year. They will be paid an extra $3000 after six months back on the hospital ward and a further $3000 after 18 months. Hospitals will also receive a contribution of $1000 for each nurse to assist with retraining costs.

Mr Rudd outlined the scheme at Sydney's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital today, saying the move would go some way towards assisting the predicted shortfall of 19,000 nurses across Australia by 2010. "This will not be the end of our announcements on this matter but is a solid start in dealing with what is an impending shortfall in the overall supply of nurses," Mr Rudd said. He said the Federal Government would now write to state and territory governments and hospital representatives to outline the administrative arrangements for the plan. He said the government was committed to a similar scheme for nurses in residential aged care facilities.


Pass all nurse trainees, teachers told

LECTURERS at a Brisbane nursing college were instructed to pass all of their students regardless of their performance. The investigation by the Queensland Nursing Council into Shafston College last year found that the college's Head of School of Nursing, Gay Carran, gave a directive to teachers that "no student should fail".

One witness, who was a senior nursing lecturer at Shafston from January 2004 to June 2006, told David Price, who undertook the investigation for the council, that students who had failed an occupational health and safety exam were allowed to re-sit the test two more times. She said in one re-sit exam, she and a colleague were told by Ms Carran to "mark students' work on the spot, immediately return unsatisfactory papers to students, and coach them until they obtained correct answers".

Ms Carran, who was also interviewed by Professor Price, denied she had given the directives but was reported as saying: "You always have to err on the side of ... let's be fair to the student. Ms Kemp (a Shafston nursing teacher) used to be black and white. If a student didn't pass, they were failed. We spoke to Ms Kemp about this as 'you can't do this because students are paying good money for the course'."

Five other former teaching staff at the college who were interviewed as part of the investigation supported the existence of the "no-fail" directive from the college management. Professor Price's investigation also found the college allowed some incompetent students with poor English to graduate with a nursing diploma last year, qualifying them to become enrolled nurses.

The college came under scrutiny after a graduate told a former Shafston lecturer she felt "unsafe" as an enrolled nurse at Brisbane's Prince Charles Hospital. Details of the investigation were submitted to the Queensland Supreme Court as part of the case brought by Shafston Nursing against the Queensland Nursing Council.

The council has not renewed the college's accreditation, which expired on December 31. The council has also placed restrictions on the activities of graduates from Shafston College. Shafston has since cancelled its nursing course, which was scheduled to begin in three weeks, and has suspended teaching for continuing students, some weeks away from graduating. About 500 students - of whom about half are from overseas - are being directed to a similar course offered by a South Australian private educator or to nursing programs at TAFE.

Professor Price's investigation was conducted in July last year and involved interviews with five former teaching staff, current senior staff and an inspection of the Shafston Nursing campus at Brisbane's Spring Hill. Students were charged up to $16,000 for the 55-week course. In its defence, Shafston claimed in documents submitted to the court that the witness statements were flawed because the former staff did not necessarily understand exam re-sit requirements. The college also rejected the idea it had allowed incompetent students or those with poor English skills to pass. The QNC has imposed strict restrictions on Shafston students who graduated in the last trimester of last year. Shafston and two of its graduates have separately taken the QNC to the Supreme Court in an attempt to have the restrictions lifted.


Ambulance patients waiting too long in NSW

CRITICALLY ill patients are being forced to wait a combined 718 days a year on trolleys outside hospital emergency departments, figures from the NSW Ambulance Service show. The statistics, for P1 category patients such as road accident, stroke and stabbing victims, monitor the time those rushed to hospital by ambulance have to wait before being admitted. Across the state's public hospital one million minutes - or 718 days - were lost to the delays in 2006-07, News Ltd says. Gosford, Royal Prince Alfred, Wollongong, Royal North Shore and Liverpool Hospitals were the worst offenders.

Dr Sally McCarthy, vice-president of the Royal Australian College of Emergency Medicine, blamed the blockages on a lack of emergency beds. "This reveals the true problem about what is wrong with our health system and how the State Government is refusing to listen," she said. An unnamed ambulance officer said "people on death's door" were waiting for treatment.


Rainfall could smash records

We were repeatedly told that the "drought" was a sign of global warming. So the floods must be a sign of global cooling, right? Or am I missing something?

BRISBANE has already exceeded its average January rainfall in the first two weeks of the month - as north Queensland continues to faces severe floods. Locals in Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays are bracing for yet more heavy rain today after the monsoon conditions wreaked havoc across the region yesterday. But in the southeast, the consistent rain has brought welcome relief from drought conditions with dam levels now above 25 per cent for the first time in month. Last night's rainfall gave a slight boost to the southeast's water supply with Somerset Dam receiving 18mm, North Pine 10mm and Wivenhoe 5mm. The combined storage today stands at 25.78 per cent.

Brisbane has already recorded 124mm of rain in January - outstripping the monthly average for the entirety of January of 120mm. And rain is forecast for the next six days until at least Monday of next week. With more heavy falls, Brisbane could be on track to pass the highest recent January total of 280mm in 1995. The city received 279mm in 2004.

In north Queensland, flood warnings remain in place for the Proserpine and Don rivers, which began rising with a storm on Sunday night. The bureau says the Don River at Bowen peaked at five metres around 3am today, causing moderate flooding. Further rises are likely today with heavy rain forecast, and widespread flash flooding is expected to continue in coastal areas south of Ayr to Mackay, particularly around Proserpine.


Rudd slashes old department's budget

Good God! He really is cutting something back!

KEVIN Rudd has taken the axe to his former employer, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, slashing its budget by more than $57 million and withdrawing 19 overseas diplomatic positions. The $57.2 million cuts will include slicing two positions from a team that is negotiating a free trade agreement with China and axing an entire program to promote Australian cultural exports, The Australian has learned. Travel and entertainment allowances have also been cut.

Any hopes within DFAT that the Prime Minister's sympathies for his former employer and colleagues might shield the department from Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner's cost-cutting drive have been dashed. A spokesman for Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said the Government did not believe the savings would adversely affect its foreign policy priorities. However, senior officials within the department told The Australian yesterday they were dismayed the cuts had been made when the department was already operating with a bare minimum of staff and at a time when the Rudd Government had committed to an increased role for Australia in a diverse range of areas, including climate change, the UN and in Asia and the Pacific.

An administrative circular issued last week by departmental secretary Michael L'Estrange advised departmental officers that the department had been required to deliver cuts. Since the department runs very few programs, the main way to achieve those cuts has been through the withdrawal of 19 overseas positions by June 30 this year. The travel and representation allowances for all officers have been cut across the board by 10per cent. The representation allowance covers the cost of entertaining foreign dignitaries and other officials. DFAT has already been required to deliver an efficiency dividend over successive years, reducing its expenditure by 1.25per cent while maintaining services. A one-off additional 2per cent efficiency dividend had already been imposed by the Government.

The department apparently looked at closing some diplomatic missions altogether but was told this was not an option. Officers have been advised there will be no forced redundancies and any lay-offs would be through natural attrition. The positions cut include those at the level Mr Rudd served during his seven years with the department from 1982 to 1988. Mr Rudd served as third secretary in the Australian embassy in Stockholm and as first secretary in the embassy in Beijing. In 1988, he was promoted to counsellor and later to the senior executive service. Despite a commitment by Mr Rudd to make it easier for journalists and the public to obtain information such as policy documents and costings about the public service, neither the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade or DFAT would confirm which overseas positions had been withdrawn, although staff whose positions have been cut have been advised.

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Andrew Robb accused the Government of misleading the public during the election campaign and of short-sightedness. "At no time during, or in the lead-up to, last year's election did Labor say that a Rudd government would be reducing Australia representation overseas," Mr Robb said. "Labor's $10 million cuts to the team that are negotiating a free trade agreement with China is short-sighted and could derail an important bilateral process." Mr Robb said cutting two members of that team made a mockery of Simon Crean's claims, reported in The Australian last week, that there would be no cutbacks to the team negotiating a free trade agreement with China. "This is another example of Labor saying one thing before the election and doing another thing afterwards," he said.

"I am very concerned that Labor will be cutting the foreign affairs budget by almost $58million over the forward estimates despite total silence about any cuts in the lead-up to the election and constant bleatings about our balance of trade situation. "The cuts in staff positions in overseas posts will have negative consequences for Australian tourists and ... businesses. "The Foreign Affairs and Trade positions that are held in other countries ... are to assist Australians when they are travelling and to assist Australian companies expanding into overseas markets." ....


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