Thursday, January 08, 2009

Victorian mother dies because of closed government maternity services

Rural doctors have blamed the closure of country maternity wards for a mother's death. The Barooga mother of one, 38, died from heavy bleeding caused by an ectopic pregnancy after allegedly waiting more than two hours at Cobram District Hospital for an ambulance to take her to Shepparton's Goulburn Valley Hospital for emergency surgery. Deaths from ectopic pregnancies, where the fertilised egg grows outside the womb, are rare and the coroner has begun an investigation.

The Cobram hospital's obstetrics unit closed about six years ago and Rural Doctors Association Victoria president Dr Mike Moynihan said a lack of specialists may have cost the woman her life. "On the surface, it would have made a difference if there was a maternity ward if it was a straightforward ectopic," he said. ". . . There are going to be more of these incidents and we have pointed this out to the Government."

The Cobram and Shepparton hospitals declined to comment on the woman's death because of the coronial investigation. But Opposition health spokeswoman Helen Shardey said the Brumby Government had endangered lives by closing 20 country maternity wards, including Cobram's. "John Brumby has breached the trust of Victorian families by closing maternity wards and presiding over an underfunded health system which endangers the lives of Victorian women," Ms Shardey said. "Many country paramedics have told me response times are poor and plenty of rural doctors have warned the Brumby Government time and time again that the closure of maternity units could cost lives. "John Brumby and the Minister for Health will be held accountable for the closure of 20 maternity wards, particularly in light of their flippant claim that Labor has provided record funding for health."

Premier John Brumby said funding was not an issue as it had doubled in the past nine years. "In relation to any local services, whether they're maternity or any other specialist services, it's the local doctors and clinicians who make the decisions about whether those services are provided," he said. "I understand in the case of this hospital (it) took the decision that better services were available elsewhere."


Five-year surgery wait for almost 400 Queenslanders

ALMOST 400 sick Queenslanders have been placed on surgery waiting lists for more than five years, figures released today have shown. Figures obtained by the State Opposition also show 264 people assessed as category two patients - needing surgery within 90 days - have been waiting up to two years for surgery. Opposition Health spokesman Mark McArdle said the government was failing some of the state's sickest people. "These are life threatening illnesses and this government has done nothing to save these people," he said. The figures also showed a blow out in waiting times for a hospital bed, which has grown from four hours and 48 minutes in 2004-05, to nearly six hours in 2007-08.

Australian Medical Association of Queensland (AMAQ) says the figures were unacceptable. AMAQ acting president Mason Stephenson said the figures were not new but once again highlighted a need for more beds. "Beds are on top of the list, then you need more medical man and woman power - more doctors and nurses - then you need the operating time," Mr Stephenson said. "If you look at the 400 waiting for more than five years, they are category three patients - often elderly patients needing prosthetic knees and hip replacements or orthopaedics ... they are suffering to a lesser extent but they are suffering none-the-less and this is unacceptable." He said in past 20 years there has been a reduction in public hospital capacities and now it was up to all governments to reverse this trend and cut waiting lists.

Mr McArdle said the figures were proof the government had mismanaged the health budget throughout the state's most prosperous period. "In the best economic times this state has seen for many years, this government has blown the health budget and has not provided adequate care for Queenslanders," he said. The Liberal National Party would improve the health system by "streamlining" funds to the frontline, but that didn't mean sacking bureaucrats, Mr McArdle said. "We'll move to ensure these (waiting) lists are reduced dramatically and provide an efficient Queensland health system," he said.

"We know that the efficiencies in the Queensland Health department are there to be utilised, we know that there are millions of dollars misspent in Queensland Health that can be redirected to the bottom line - to the doctors to the nurses, allied health professionals." Mr McArdle said the opposition would release its health policy "in near future".


Proposed Greenie laws to be deadly for Australian mining industry

"More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other to total extinction. Let's pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." For some observers, this extract from Woody Allen's "Speech to the graduates", first published in The New York Times in 1979, might sum up the debate over the white paper on an emissions trading scheme.

On the one hand, the white paper has been widely condemned by environmental NGOs well-practised in hyperbole and ambit claims. On the other, business groups, including my own, have warned that the ETS, in the form proposed in the white paper, will cost jobs, investment and competitiveness. Some have been tempted to surmise that this means the Government has charted an appropriate middle path.

But this is a lazy and cartoonish view of the challenges of sensible policymaking. Leadership and sound policymaking takes more than running a figurative tape measure between the two poles of a policy debate. That is especially the case where one end of the spectrum is populated by a cheer squad of enthusiasts whose analysis is uninhibited by economic and practical realities, including the impact on the living standards of average Australians. The truth is that the proposed ETS is neither cautious nor a middle path.

Under the white paper approach, about 70 per cent of permits will be auctioned. No comparable scheme anywhere in the world has auctioned more than 2 or 3 per cent of its permits. This means that many Australian companies will be paying tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in permit costs every year. Another misconception is that there will be wheelbarrow-loads of free permits to protect the competitiveness of Australia's export sector. Not true. Nearly 90 per cent of Australia's minerals exports will be subject to the full impact of all of their permit costs. At an expected opening carbon price of $25 per tonne, that's a lot of competitiveness being put at risk; billions of dollars of annual costs will be borne by local producers of coal, iron ore, gold, uranium and so on.

Their competitors will face no such burden, at least not for a decade or so. Those who believe that this burden won't harm the competitiveness of our most important export sector also believe in the tooth fairy, monkey fishing and that Elvis Presley is living in a caravan in Tumut.

It may not yet be widely understood, but Australian business will face the highest carbon costs in the world. By a very large margin. Between 2010 and 2014, the carbon costs faced by an average Australian company will be 18 times higher than those of a counterpart in the European Union. And that margin won't close quickly. Under the deal finalised in Brussels by EU leaders last month, the average European company will not have to buy all its permits until 2027. That's right: 2027. Those who argue that Australia's scheme is softer than Europe's have a poor grasp of arithmetic.

The contrast between the treatment of so-called emissions-intensive trade exposed companies is just as stark. Australian companies classified as EITE will be required to buy between 10 and 40 per cent of their permits from July 1, 2010. Their European counterparts will not be required to spend a single euro on their permits before 2020. Not one single euro. Real action from the US is likely to be similarly delayed, while comparable action from China, Brazil and South Africa is even more distant.

Surely a 5 per cent reduction on 2000 levels shouldn't be too hard, say some. Given that Australia is already about 8 per cent above 2000 levels, it will be a lot harder than some people think. On the white paper's numbers, we will have to strip 80 million tonnes of carbon out of our economy in the first three years of the scheme. By 2020, we will have to eliminate 250 million mega-tonnes C02- equivalent from existing business-as-usual projections. That's nearly equivalent to the 2006 emissions of Australia's entire electricity and transport sectors.

These policy developments are contributing to some perverse outcomes. The Guardian reported last month on proposals to open 58 new coalmines in Britain. Meanwhile, in Australia - the world's largest coal exporter - production in the coal sector is being scaled back. Is this due to a sudden reversal of the rules of comparative advantage? Bear in mind that in Europe, coalminers face no present or future carbon costs because methane - the greenhouse gas generated during the mining of coal - is not even covered by the EU ETS. Meanwhile in Australia, the export coal sector will confront a $5 billion carbon burden in the first five years alone. These are strange days indeed.


Telstra refuses to hang up on 8c bill: "Phone giant Telstra has spent five months bombarding a customer with demands that he pay a measly eight cents. The telco, which streamlined bills for millions of customers last year to save on paper, repeatedly spat out reminders to Sydenham man Craig Mackley. Mr Mackley dismissed the request for an 8c credit card payment-processing fee as a joke. He was swamped with double-page monthly forms after settling a $10.08 mobile phone account in August last year. "You'd think they'd wake up and get their house in order and stop wasting money," he said. "I hadn't rung them about it because I thought it was a bit silly and ridiculous. But they keep sending the bill and I keep laughing at them." The telco, which returned a $3.69 billion profit last financial year, overhauled its bill format several months ago and pledged to cut down on paper. It is changing to a new system that will stop repetitive requests for tiny amounts of money. The carrier apologised and cancelled Mr Mackley's overdue account when contacted by the Herald Sun. "We have removed the charge to the customer and apologise for any inconvenience caused," spokesman Martin Barr said."

An outspoken Australian: "Lamb spruiker [promoter] Sam Kekovich wants the corporate world to trim the fat. Slamming Sam will use his annual Australia Day address to the nation to sum up the year of share-market slumps and credit card crunches. "The world economy is rooted [Australian slang for [f*cked"]," he says. His 90-second rant, due to hit the airwaves from Sunday, claims the only recipe to fix the fiscal fiasco is with a lamb chop in one hand and a coldie [beer] in the other, the Herald Sun reports. In his latest TV ad, the serial satirist takes swipe at the 'unAustraliasm" of "Wall Street wankers [jerks] and bottom-feeding, billionaire bankers". The footy star turned public speaker wags a finger at Aussie Olympians "flogging undies and waterproof laptops, while the Brits were flogging us on the medals table".

Vegemite is safe with me - Gillard: "Julia Gillard says there is no way she is giving up her breakfast ritual of Vegemite on toast. A shadow has been cast over the future of the iconic spread as a federal government taskforce considers special taxes and other deterrents on the sale of fatty, sugary and salty foods. But the Acting Prime Minister today said Vegemite's future on Australian grocery shelves was assured. "I am a very happy Vegemite eater and there is no way in the world that Vegemite would be banned in this country," she said. "Vegemite is part of being Australian, part of our history, part of our future and I'll be continuing to wake up in the morning and having it on my toast." The Government set up the taskforce last year to recommend ways to tackle preventable health problems such as obesity, which cost Australia an estimated $8.3 billion in 2008, The Australian reports. The taskforce's final report, due in June, is one of the most eagerly anticipated of all the health reviews under way, the newspaper says.

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