Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Health Fascism in Victorian schools

There is nothing wrong with exercise and kids run around naturally if allowed -- which they often are not in schools today -- but trying to dictate to parents and take over the parental role sounds a bit too much like the Hitler Youth to me

VICTORIAN primary school students are standing up in class for half an hour a day in a radical plan to beat childhood obesity. And they're having "activity breaks" to get them moving between classes.

Students are also set homework tasks such as going for a walk with mum and dad, and are being urged to reduce their time in front of the TV.

The pilot plan, involving 30 grade 3 classes from state schools, gives some students tokens that will restrict their TV viewing. If they go beyond their allocated time, the TV automatically turns off.

The Transform-Us! program, involving 750 students aged eight and nine, started four weeks ago and is being run by the Education Department and Deakin University.

Behavioural scientist Professor Jo Salmon from the university said the goal was not just to get kids moving more at school, but at home as well. This means parents are given information about healthy living such as the location of local walking trails and sports tracks, and encouragement to help restrict TV and computer use at home. "It's not about being a TV Nazi, but resetting and changing some habits such as kids watching whatever is on TV rather than actively choosing programs they want to watch," Prof Salmon said.

Children are given four 30-minute TV tokens each day and if they attempt to watch more, the TV turns off using smart card technology.

It comes as a Victorian Parliament committee is investigating the role schools can play in helping children lead healthier lives.

Prof Salmon said the school-based program, involving standing-up lessons, "was not about kids running amok in class, but getting them moving instead of sitting during the day". "We're not taking away the three Rs and making kids do more PE. We are modifying academic lessons to get them moving more," she said. "Sitting all day long isn't normal for kids. "If you stand rather than sit, there's evidence your brain works better and evidence that kids have better short-term recall of lessons."

Prof Salmon said teachers had been "very supportive and enthusiastic" but the response from parents had been "varied".

Gail McHardy, executive officer of Parents Victoria, said schools needed a balance between activity and academic study. "The focus always seems to be on sedentary kids, but a lot of kids are very active, and sometimes parents worry their kids do too much activity, not too little," she said. "We have to be realistic about what teachers can achieve."

Angela Conway, policy consultant from Pro-family Perspectives, said she liked the idea of kids standing in some classes. But she warned that schools should not encroach too much on family time. "It's good to educate and encourage, but schools should not prescribe what families do in private," she said.


A good example of the benefits of international trade

Russia has had a bad wheat season but Australia is having a bumper crop so the world will still easily be fed. Both Russia and Australia are usually major wheat exporters

AWB says drought in Russia and weather damage in Europe has helped lift interest for Australian wheat, which is likely to be a bumper crop. AWB general manager of commodities Mitch Morison said wheat buyers were looking to Australian producers to make up for lost volume in global trade and supply higher quality needs.

Mr Morison said winter crop harvest had commenced in central Queensland, and production prospects across the nation had received a boost from recent rain. "Notwithstanding the unfortunate people suffering from localised flooding in some areas, it's a great start to the spring growth period and the timing couldn't have been much better from the markets perspective," Mr Morison said.

"The market is aware that weather damage in northern Europe has reduced the supply of higher quality milling wheat in that region and drought has cut crops in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan to the point that exports through the Black Sea will be very limited. "This means there is very strong interest for Australian wheat, both to make up for the lost volume in the global trade and supply higher quality needs."

He said there was keen world interest for the Australian product: "The interest is helping to generate better physical prices for Australian wheat on top of the general improvement in world prices," Mr Morison said in a statement. "So we are in a strong position talking to customers about shipments both in bulk and containers."

AWB on Tuesday raised its forecast wheat pool returns for the 2010-11 season for the third straight month, with various grades of wheat increased between $9 and $22.


Bungled DNA testing at Victorian government laboratory

Two people convicted of rape, one of drug trafficking, and one of armed robbery could be freed after a review of DNA evidence in their cases. One of the four has been in jail for rape for four years. And just last week, a woman was acquitted on appeal of a drugs charge after the DNA case against her fell away.

Hundreds of cases involving DNA are being reviewed after a more conservative approach was adopted towards analysing DNA evidence.

Police Association secretary Greg Davies today said it was unclear whether current investigations would be affected. But he said such a result would be “unfortunate in the extreme’’

"Obviously we will have to wait and see,’’ Mr Davies said. "But if it did impact adversely on ongoing matters that would be very unfortunate and cause a lot of distress to a lot of victims not to mention police officers that have worked hard to bring matters to the courts. "If some sort of irregularity was to derail those investigations or court proceedings it would be unfortunate in the extreme."

Kelly Hazell Quill Lawyers director Justin Quill said anyone acquitted as a result of the review would likely have problems suing. But any payout could be significant. "If these people are found to have been wrongly convicted, then they might have a case against the state,"Mr Quill said. "Although they would have to show not just that there was a wrong result, but that there was something wrong with the system. "That might not be that easy.

"So while you might have sympathy for them, that doesn't necessarily translate into a legal right to compensation. "If they were successful though, any damages award would likely be substantial."

Late last year, it was found that statistical analysis of DNA evidence had not kept pace with technology. This led Chief Commissioner Simon Overland to ban police forensic scientists from giving evidence for a month, while a review of procedures took place. Since then, forensic evidence in 370 of 430 cases still before the courts has been reviewed.

In five, the statistical strength of the DNA evidence was reduced. One of those was the case of Florina Alecu. She was given a 21-month suspended jail term after being convicted of cultivating cannabis in a water tank beneath a shed at a hobby farm in Litchfield, in the Mallee, in 2006. She was linked to DNA on a gardening glove found nearby.

The jury at her 2008 trial was told the likelihood of the DNA being from someone chosen at random, rather than her, was one in 10,000. Forensic scientists rated this evidence as "very strong". But under the new methodology, that statistical likelihood fell to just one in nine.

Last week, the Court of Appeal ruled the new DNA report "largely (if not wholly) obliterates" what was "an important strand in the cable that was the circumstantial case against her". The prosecution conceded there should be a retrial. But as her suspended sentence had almost expired, the court directed an acquittal instead. Her de facto husband, Jim Theoharethes, is serving at least two of four years' jail over the case.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Jeremy Rapke, QC, is believed to have been advised last week that new DNA reports in the four other current cases, where the DNA likelihood had been reduced, would be provided by month's end.

Charges in at least one other case have been dropped after the new DNA statistical analysis left it too weak to proceed.

At the DPP's invitation last year, nine closed cases, where lawyers regarded the DNA evidence as potentially doubtful, were also submitted for review. A reassessment of the evidence in the first five, including a murder and a rape, has cleared those convictions.

A police spokeswoman told the Herald Sun that work was continuing on a national standard in DNA interpretation and the force was "rolling out new procedures that will enable it to interpret low-level DNA profiles with even more confidence than (now)". "It should be noted that in a vast majority of cases Victoria Police will not proceed if DNA is the sole source of evidence," she said.

Farah Jama was awarded $550,000 compensation this year after serving 16 months' jail for a rape he didn't commit. A DNA sample had been contaminated. A revised analysis reduced the statistical likelihood of the DNA belonging to someone else from one in 800 billion to one in 150 million.

Retired judge Frank Vincent, who conducted a government inquiry into the case, said in his report that he was "troubled by such an extraordinary variation".


Patients put at risk when disgraced surgeon allowed to work unsupervised

Yet another unsatisfactory third-world doctor in a government hospital

PATIENTS have potentially been put in danger after a disgraced surgeon worked in emergency unsupervised, due to systemic failures by two NSW hospitals.

Despite knowing of serious complaints against Melvin Muralidharan, including allegedly indecently assaulting a patient, St George Hospital sent him to Shoalhaven Hospital in April 2007 and failed to inform it that he must be directly supervised "to protect the public". For four weeks, Mr Muralidharan worked alone in emergency and after hours, was sometimes in control of the surgical division and supervised junior medical staff.

The head of surgery at Shoalhaven, Martin Jones, has urged the Health Department to review all of the Indian-trained doctor's patient files because of serious concerns about his competency.

St George Hospital also breached the surgical trainee's registration conditions for nine weeks while he worked in its trauma department from August 2006 by allowing him to work without obtaining necessary medical board approval that required strict monitoring.

Mr Muralidharan was deregistered in March.

"[He] ... placed members of the public at potential risk of danger when he was working alone and unsupervised at Shoalhaven for a period of almost four weeks," the NSW Medical Tribunal said then.

While at Shoalhaven, he left while on duty at least once and could not be contacted, leaving his pager behind and abandoning his responsibility to supervise junior staff, it found.

NSW District Court documents released to the Herald show that Associate Professor Jones made a formal complaint three years ago to the health watchdog about the actions of the South Eastern Sydney and Illawarra Area Health Service.

Within three days of Mr Muralidharan's arrival at Shoalhaven, Professor Jones was concerned about his prolonged absences, his "inability to assess surgical patients", "inappropriate diagnoses and an amazing speed to attempt to operate on patients", he wrote to the Health Care Complaints Commission in August 2007.

"[Having] no one is better than one Mr M ... I am concerned that because there is a perceived need for greater numbers of doctors esp surgeons ... that this process and this practitioner may be the tip of an iceberg. This man has put my patients at danger and St George were complicit in that action," he said. It was unforgivable, he said.

Shoalhaven failed even to obtain a copy of Mr Muralidharan's registration.

The present director-general of the Health Department, Debora Picone, was responsible for both hospitals as the chief executive of the South Eastern Sydney and Illawarra Area Health Service at the time. Ms Picone did not comment. The huge failure occurred despite a clampdown in 2005 and 2006 on background checks after the debacle surrounding Graeme Reeves. He was employed at two hospitals five years after he was banned from practising as an obstetrician. He is due to stand trial this year on serious criminal charges.

Complaints against Mr Muralidharan date to an alleged indecent assault in May 2005 of a female patient at Maitland Hospital, which suspended then sacked him in August 2005. Police investigated but no charges were laid. While he was suspended, he was caught moonlighting in the emergency department at Hornsby Hospital, which was unaware of his job at Maitland. He also lied to Queensland registration authorities in October 2005 about his complaints history.

The medical board imposed the strictest supervision conditions on him in November 2005 after an urgent hearing into his clinical competency and ethical behaviour.

The South Eastern Sydney and Illawarra Area Health Service denied it had breached the conditions and said he was supervised at St George and Shoalhaven hospitals. But a spokeswoman apologised for "the confusion" and later sent a revised statement saying: "St George Hospital did not contact the medical board to confirm the conditions of Dr Muralidharan's supervision" and that "St George Hospital staff should have informed Shoalhaven Hospital of Dr Muralidharan's conditions of registration".

A Health Department spokeswoman said none of Mr Muralidharan's patient files had been reviewed "as no patient complaints had been received".


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