Thursday, January 03, 2008

Public hospital negligence leads to tragedy again

A Traralgon couple is planning to sue the local hospital because their baby was born with severe brain damage after allegedly being deprived of oxygen. Tobias Vizard was not breathing at birth, but was resuscitated in a Latrobe Regional Hospital birthing room and spent two weeks on life support. His life expectancy is short, and his disabilities include cerebral palsy and possibly quadriplegia. Mum Julia Williams said she and her family pleaded for an emergency caesarean as her son's heart rate plummeted and he could not be pushed through the birth canal during labour on August 17 last year.

It was more than two hours after her waters broke that Tobias was delivered naturally but with a hypoxic brain injury, believed to be caused by a lack of oxygen. The pregnancy was in its 40th week and contractions started on Tobias's expected birth date, a fortnight after ultrasounds indicated there was nothing wrong. He is now living with brain damage more severe than that experienced by many very premature babies.

Tobias's father, Brian Vizard, is deaf and cannot hear his son struggling for air at night to know when his airways need to be cleared. However Ms Williams said they were determined to make the most of each day together. "He was dead when he was born. He was dolphin blue, and I didn't understand what was going on until I saw them resuscitating him in front of us," she said. "We don't ever wish this to happen to anyone. You don't know what it is like to have a newborn and they are saying he is not going to make it. "But he is beautiful to look at. He doesn't look handicapped, apart from the cerebral palsy in his hand."

The distressed parents are seeking legal advice from Maurice Blackburn lawyers. Latrobe Regional Hospital spokeswoman Jan Rees confirmed the hospital investigated the birth, but said she could not comment because legal action had started. The matter has also been referred to the Health Services Commissioner, but details of the investigation remain confidential. The commissioner can enforce a compensation payout following conciliation, provided that litigation does not proceed. The Royal Children's Hospital, which treated Tobias in the weeks after his birth, declined to comment because it did not want to influence potential legal action.


Victorian government schools not so "free"

Government schools that have wrongly charged parents for voluntary fees will be forced to pay families back under a State Government crackdown. Exclusive figures seen by the Herald Sun reveal taxpayer-funded state schools netted a staggering $168 million in voluntary fees in 2006 alone. The total is more than three times as much as parents contributed in 2004.

Government documents, seen after a three-month wait under Freedom of Information laws, show four schools raised more than $1 million each. Another 45 schools raised more than $500,000 from their local communities in 2006 alone. Schools received an average of more than $106,000 each from voluntary fees, with some hitting parents for more than $300 per student. Select-entry Melbourne High School ($1.69 million) and Box Hill Senior Secondary College ($1.13 million) raised the most from voluntary fees in 2006. Schools in low socio-economic areas, such as Frankston High, Footscray City College and Narre Warren South P-12 College, were among schools that raised more than $500,000 from local parents.

When the Herald Sun anonymously rang Balwyn High School earlier in December, we were told parents must pay the voluntary fee of $345 per student. Swan Marsh Primary School, near Colac, received nothing in voluntary fees. Navarre Primary, west of Ballarat, received $20.

Non-compulsory fees vary between schools, but often run into hundreds of dollars. Welfare agencies are bracing themselves for an influx of calls from thousands of stressed families whose schools are bullying them into paying fees when first term starts on January 30. Some schools have banned students from attending camps, accessing the internet and taking woodwork projects home because their parents have not paid voluntary fees. Some schools have organised special payment plans if parents are unable to afford a lump-sum amount.

Department of Education and Early Childhood Development policy stipulates state schools must not force parents to pay optional fees. Education Minister Bronwyn Pike said at least 100 schools would be audited from March to ensure they are complying with fundraising guidelines. Ms Pike said schools must clearly state which items parents are expected to pay for, and which are voluntary financial contributions. Schools with a history of breaching the guidelines will be on the audit list while a small number will be selected randomly, she said. "Most of our schools do the right thing, but if we find schools who are over-charging parents they will have to pay the money back," Ms Pike said.

The Government rejected the Herald Sun's request for figures from 2007, claiming the data was not yet available. Opposition education spokesman Martin Dixon said the millions paid by parents proved the State Government was under-funding education. "Voluntary levies are fine for extras and schools are not relying on them to prop up budgets, but $168 million begs the question if schools are being funded properly -- and the answer is no."

Open Family youth worker Les Twentyman said more than 1000 families were expected to approach the service for help with fees in January. "It just makes me livid that schools are forcing parents who certainly can't afford it to pay, or they will withhold materials and resources from their kids," he said. "This is an outrageous situation." Victorian Council of Social Service deputy director Carolyn Atkins has previously told the Herald Sun voluntary fees caused heartache for some families. "Some students are being denied access to art or music, which really should be seen as core elements of an education," Ms Atkins said.


A more realistic comment on the "risk" to corals

Corals may move from warming seas. A change from the garbage about corals dying out. Corals already have a huge North/South geographical range -- which means a huge range of temperature tolerance

If their watery world continues to warm as climate change scientists predict, Western Australia's corals may head south to cooler climes. That's the message from US and Australian researchers who compared the behaviour of the state's corals then and now. Since "then" was 125,000 years ago, University of Queensland paleoecologist John Pandolfi and geologist Benjamin Greenstein of Cornelle College in Iowa are confident their findings are not a short-term blip.

The implication is that conservation managers should help ensure that corals have an "escape route" beyond existing parks and protected areas, claimed Professor Pandolfi. "Paving the way to southern refugia is a step in the right direction for coral conservation," he argued. "These refugia could be very important for reseeding northern reefs if the environmental conditions return to a more favourable state."

According to their research _ reported in the journal Global Change Biology _ fast-growing branching corals, Acropora, will likely be the first to move, possibly as far south as Margaret River or even around the corner to Albany. "We've already seen some movement of the Acropora," said Professor Pandolfi, with UQ's Centre for Marine Studies. "Rottnest Island (off Perth) has Acropora coral and it didn't have any 20 years ago," he said.

Along with Professor Greenstein, Professor Pandolfi took advantage of Western Australia's "natural laboratory", a 1500-km-long stretch of living and fossil coral reefs. They paired five ancient and modern reefs: two at Ningaloo and Shark Bay in the north, two more in the Houtman-Abrolhos Islands and Geraldton-Leander Point and the most southerly site at Rottnest Island. They assessed the diversity and distribution of coral species living in the ancient and modern communities and then compared the data. The results suggested that coral diversity expands and contracts according to the water temperature.

While that gives hope that if reefs can shelter in cooler refugia they'll survive global warming, Professor Pandolfi said he and Professor Greenstein looked only at temperature. He claimed managers must work to protect reefs from human impacts like pollution, as sea and carbon dioxide levels rise and stress the coral. "The better the health of the reefs the better off they'll be in handling change," said Professor Pandolfi. "We have to keep an eye out and give them a chance to escape."


Now councils are banning kites

Using "safety" to attack the recreations of normal people again

A [NSW] council has taken the crazy step of banning kites in a popular park, with the declaration of war on fun upsetting local families. Parents are outraged Shellharbour Council has moved to outlaw kite flying in a local community reserve, robbing children of a popular activity. The kite prohibition was listed among other banned activities such as carrying guns, lighting fires and horse riding.

Lincoln Steel regularly takes his children to Flinders Reserve, in the centre of Shellharbour, and is appalled his family now faces a $100 council-issued fine if they fly a kite. "How stupid is that. You can do just about everything else but you can't fly a kite," Mr Steel said. Mr Steel noticed the sign about four weeks ago but it emerged yesterday even the Council is having second thoughts about its tough stance on harmless fun.

When told of his Council's kite-flying ban, Mayor David Hamilton yesterday ordered a full investigation. He promised The Daily Telegraph that if investigators failed to find a serious safety reason for the ban, the sign would be torn down. "It will have to be a very good reason because that is what parks are for, parks are for kids to enjoy and families to enjoy," he said. "I've got grandkids myself and on numerous occasions I have taken my grandkids to fly kites, I am at a total loss to say why that sign is there."

The kite ban was only brought to Mr Hamilton's attention over the weekend. He said he had been unaware a sign had been posted at the reserve. Mr Hamilton said if a serious risk to children flying kites was found, such as overhead powerlines, he would take the ban seriously.

Deputy Mayor Michele Greig supported Mr Hamilton's investigation but she also said kite flying could be a dangerous activity. "Children's safety is the No. 1 priority," she said. "If it is a safety issue, I have no problem (with the ban). It is Council's role to make it a safe environment for people to use it."

Mr Hamilton said his investigation was taking extra time because of the long weekend but he hoped to resolve the issue as soon as possible.


More bureaucratic contempt for the taxpayer

Public servants will be ordered to pay for their own massages after chalking up more than $200,000 in taxpayer-funded rub downs. The practice was widespread under the former Howard government, with the former prime minister's own department enjoying more than $6000 worth of back rubs at taxpayers' expense. Figures tabled in Federal Parliament show the government's total massage bill in 2004 topped $108,710 - the equivalent of about $200 worth of massages per public servant. In 2005, at least $89,000 was spent on publicly funded rub downs for the nation's bureaucrats.

Assistant Treasurer Chris Bowen has previously labelled the practice a "blatant waste of expenditure". Mr Bowen's spokesman this week said the minister would be advising his agency heads that massages were not an appropriate use of taxpayers' funds. Other ministers are expected to follow Mr Bowen's lead and ban taxpayer-funded massages as the Rudd administration moves to clamp down on government largesse and wastage. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has already set up a razor gang to save taxpayers billions of dollars in wasted expenditure in order to take pressure off inflation and interest rates.

The Courier-Mail reported last week how Australian diplomats feared losing millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded perks in the drive to slash spending. Australian embassy staff enjoy some of the best perks in the public service, including access to 37 taxpayer-funded holiday houses.

The use of massages is common in the private sector to keep employees healthy and reduce sick leave levels. Some of the biggest users of massage services under the previous government included Australia Post, whose staff were treated to $55,000 worth of rub downs, the Australian Bureau of Statistics ($10,120) and Treasury ($17,000). The cost of the massages varied from $10.86 to $15 for 15 minutes. Public servants in the Industry, Tourism and Resources Department were entitled to spend up to $110 a year on massages by way of a "healthy living subsidy".


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