Friday, April 11, 2008

Another public hospital horror

A mother yesterday told of her harrowing ordeal of having been sent home from a major Sydney hospital with her dead unborn baby still inside her because of a lack of beds. Zareen Nisha gave evidence at the Special Commission of Inquiry into Acute Care Services in NSW Public Hospitals yesterday, telling of the derelict treatment she received at Westmead Hospital. Ms Nisha, who was seven months pregnant at the time, said despite her GP phoning ahead to the hospital to alert them that the baby had developed serious problems, staff had told her to take a number in the queue and made her wait almost 30 minutes before seeing her.

Tests performed at the Westmead-based University Clinic on April 17, last year showed the the unborn baby boy was dead - the umbilical cord had twice wrapped around its neck. However, hospital staff sent her home because "there were no beds" to deliver the stillborn child. The Merrylands resident returned to the hospital at 2am the following day - finally giving birth to the dead baby she named Aahil - about 8pm that night.

"The midwife told me he was a perfect angel," Ms Nisha said. "There was no disability or anything - he died because the cord had coiled around his neck. "Ultrasounds would have picked up that he was becoming tangled in the cord. But they only gave me one ultrasound."

Ms Nisha said she believed a lack of clinical care throughout her pregnancy had caused the death of her son. The 36 year old said her pregnancy should have been considered high risk from the start due to a history of pregnancy-induced diabetes and other well-documented reproductive complications. She said when her GP told her she was pregnant in November 2006 it took 12 weeks to get an appointment at Westmead because the clinic had closed over Christmas. Ms Nisha said because of her age she had wanted the baby tested for Down syndrome, however the clinic never carried out the tests. She finally paid to have tests done privately.

At 20 weeks, the hospital carried out its first - and only - ultrasound on her unborn baby. At 29 weeks the clinic told her it was dead. "If they had seen the cord was tangling they would have saved him - I believe if they had done more ultra sounds they would have seen that," Ms Nisha said. "I don't blame the hospital for my baby's death but I would like them to be more accountable." Ms Nisha, whose first child Zoya, 9, was born in Fiji, said she had wrongly believed the health system would be better in Australia. "The standard of care is higher in Fiji than it is here," she said.


About guns and government control

Just as the sign of the cross tends to discombobulate vampires, stopping them in their tracks, equivalent creatures - such as the hysterically paranoid, anti-personal-responsibility fraternity - go completely apoplectic and phobic at the sight of an autonomous citizen armed with the "great equaliser"of a firearm. This hysteria has been reawakened in many with the recent death of Charlton Heston. Much has been made of his affiliation with the National Rifle Association, muddying the memory of a man who was a great actor and activist.

"Kill the gun culture", scream the historically ignorant. Our political betters have signed on for the responsibility of "taking care " of us and all they ask in return is that we surrender the devices they seek to employ unilaterally - and that we are loyal to whatever they want to do with our lives, fortunes and sacred honour. But have you observed, that when danger threatens you and your family, the police are always someplace else? The Gauleiters of the superstate may not like it, but the absolute right of the individual citizen to protect himself, his family and the wider community is not obviated by the absence of the constabulary. In Shane, arguably the greatest western film, Alan Ladd pointed out to Jean Arthur that: "A gun is a tool, no better and no worse than an axe or any other tool; a gun is as good as the man using it."

Today it is considered too dangerous for most citizens to own a gun, but it is apparently viewed as not too dangerous to release child molesters, rapists and murderers into the community. After a recent child murder in California, we were informed 400,000 perverts are listed on a government "sex register" in that state alone. Closer to home, much has been made recently of the release of sex offenders into the community. It is not too difficult to imagine state governments releasing funnel-web spiders and crocodiles into cities, while whispering sweet nothings into our ears that there is nothing to worry about - because each creature is on a register somewhere.

People acquire firearms for the same reason they have created a growing industry of private security and alarm systems. Government is quite simply not performing its primary function of protecting life, liberty and property. Some examples here in Australia:

An elderly woman is murdered by an illegal immigrant - smothered to death with a pillow. An old Digger [soldier] is murdered by a 14-year-old youth recently escaped from a government "secure" facility. The murder weapon: a knife. A baby is snatched from the bedroom of her deaf parents by a man with a bus ticket in his hand provided by a government department. That ticket was to allow the disadvantaged youth to visit his family and was given to him by the same type of bureaucrats who have been given responsibility for "controlling" firearms - which are permitted to farmers to control pests, but absolutely denied for personal protection in Australia.

So we must consider the manifest failure of government departments and the prison system to protect victims. Governments and police regulate those who might legally possess firearms more than they act to prevent guns ending up in the hands of violent criminals. It's easier. Governments can't stop violence, so they go after those who can. To be seen to be doing something they have decided to beat up on inanimate objects; disarming the honest and the brave while doing little against the criminals and crazies. What a primitive mindset; a bit like blaming the pot for burning the beans.


Climate change will harm beer

Wotta lotta rubbish! A warmer climate would be a wetter climate overall and both rain and warmth are GOOD for crops

BEER will be in short supply, more expensive and may even taste different as climate change affects barley production, according to a scientist. Drought conditions in parts of Australia where malting barley was grown was likely to get worse, according to Jim Salinger of New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. Barley production in the main growing region of Canterbury in New Zealand - where brewing giant Lion Nathan gets about 70 per cent of its malted barley - would also be affected, the New Zealand Press Association said. "It will mean either there will be pubs without beer or the cost of beer will go up," he said.

Malting barley production in Australia was likely to be hit hard in parts of Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and NSW. The dry areas of Australia would become drier and water shortages would get worse. "It will provide a lot of challenges for the brewing industry," Dr Salinger said. He said breweries could be forced to look at new varieties of malt.

Dr Salinger told the Institute of Brewing and Distilling convention in Auckland today that by 2100, the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases - measured in equivalent amounts of carbon dioxide - would be double, and possibly four times pre-industrial levels, leading to further climate warming. "Most areas in Australia where malting barley is cropped are likely to experience producing declines," he said.


Selective schools have their place

On her first day at a selective school, Georgia Blain no longer had to pretend not to know her multiplication tables to avoid being teased. In her recent memoir Births Deaths Marriages, the Australian novelist recalls that at her old school she had few friends, as being smart made her "odd". But in her opportunity class she discovered "my abilities were no longer something to be ashamed about". It's an experience shared by many children who go from a comprehensive school to a selective school, yet it is rarely considered in debates about schools.

Whenever there is public discussion about why local schools are suffering from falling enrolments, selective schools are often first to cop the blame. It's a fair call. Selective schools draw high-achieving students away from underfunded local schools, leaving them to cope with the more educationally demanding students. Naturally, these schools rank lower on HSC lists, further decreasing their attractiveness to some parents.

But calls to curb selective schools frequently come from parents and politicians, not students. If we are going to have an honest public debate on this issue, we need to acknowledge the experiences of students who went to selective schools to understand their value and their shortcomings. Like Blain, I began my schooling at a local primary school, in the multicultural inner west of Sydney. I have fond memories of the school, but I also remember feeling lost. Teachers often had their hands full dealing with kids who were struggling with reading or behavioural problems, and there was often not the time or the resources to make the classes relevant for all.

Going to a selective high school was, for me, a bit like stepping into the nerd dungeon Bart discovers in one episode of The Simpsons; a secret room where the school brainiacs are studying, talking and playing chess. Selective schools are places where nerds are free to be nerds. Knowledge of novels, poetry and politics suddenly became social cachet. Classes often moved at a cracking pace, satisfying my desire for more to read and learn. Girls were never made to feel embarrassed for being smart and opinionated.

Of course, selective schools are not always an intellectually stimulating bed of roses. Blain writes that while she no longer had to be anxious about her intelligence at a selective school, knowing she was not the brightest in the class now made her anxious about a lack of ability. Mind-numbing conformity and ultra-competitiveness are the scourge of most selective schools. And undoubtedly my high school lacked the social diversity of my primary school, at times feeding snobbish, narrow-minded attitudes in the playground.

For many students, these problems are reason enough to avoid selective schools. A friend, Jesse Cox, is glad his parents sent him to a comprehensive high school. Cox attends the University of Sydney after gaining a stellar result in his HSC, and excels in art and history. "I think it's a bit of a myth that kids will be isolated in a comprehensive school; it was not my experience at all," he says. "The classes were really mixed, and kids still pushed each other in a friendly way, not in the competitive way I would associate with a selective school." It is clear from the experiences of Cox and others that selective schools do not have a monopoly on nurturing intelligent, creative minds. It is also questionable whether they quantitatively improve the academic performance of the students who attend them.

Standing up for selective schools is a difficult point to argue. Gifted children will probably achieve great things, no matter what school they go to, and it's imperative that students who are struggling to keep their heads above water are given the most attention in public debate. But for an honest and vigorous discussion about the best ways to improve public education, the experiences of students and former students must be considered. It would be dangerous to leave the debate to ideological arguments alone.


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