Thursday, November 17, 2011

Patients left to wait indefinitely as Queensland Health battles to cope

QUEENSLAND Health continues to turn away patients needing specialist appointments because of lengthy waiting lists, a letter obtained by the Opposition shows.

In further signs the state's health system was battling to cope, a Brisbane patient was told his eye condition could not be treated "in the foreseeable future" at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital. "The length of the waiting list has meant we have not been able to provide this appointment for you," the patient's letter, written by RBWH executive director David Alcorn, read.

The patient was told to instead discuss alternative options with his family doctor, such as monitoring by an optometrist.

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle condemned the growing specialist waiting list, which comes even before patients can be added to long surgery wait lists. "This patient was in limbo for six months, but at least he could hope the wait would be worthwhile," he said. "Unfortunately, he waited in vain because the reality is that Labor's waste and mismanagement is denying Queenslanders access to services they desperately need."

In June, Health Minister Geoff Wilson ordered QH not to send away any more category-one patients after The Courier-Mail revealed Gold Coast Hospital told two patients referred by their GPs for specialist appointments to "consider other options".

Mr Wilson yesterday said non-urgent patients might be sent to other facilities to ensure they "get quicker access to care". "I make it clear that in relation to category one and urgent and emergency cases that are referred to outpatient clinics, Queensland Health and every facility is obliged to ensure they treat that person and provide the consultation at the centre in which they have been sent," he said.


More Australians take up health insurance despite premium rise

And the article above tells you why: To access Australia's large and excellent range of private hospitals, where waiting lists are minimal

MORE than 97,000 Australians have taken out hospital cover since June despite this year's 5.56 per cent premium rise.

At least 45 per cent of people had hospital cover in the September quarter - an increase of 97,400 people since June, Private Health Insurance Administration Council figures show. And more than 120,000 people signed up for extras cover, with some of those also taking up hospital cover. It means more than 50 per cent of the population now has some form of private health insurance.

Health Minister Nicola Roxon seized on the figures to argue the insurance industry was in good shape and would not be hurt by the government's plan to means test the private health rebate. The plan would reduce subsidies for high-income earners.

Existing 30, 35 and 40 per cent rebates would remain for nearly eight million low and middle-income earners but there are fears the measures would reduce membership.

"What we now see is a private helath insurance sector that is going from strength to strength," Ms Roxon said. "We don't believe that lower and middle income Australians should subsidise the private health insurance of millionaires."

The government maintains that unless savings to the cost of the rebate can be made, Australia faces a $100 billion budget black hole over the next 40 years that would require savings elsewhere in the health system.

But it looks set to miss its January start date after the Senate twice blocked the $2.78 billion 2009-10 budget savings measure.


Parents support Judeo-Christian teachings, say Queensland conservatives

Queensland's Liberal National Party has strongly backed religious instruction in state schools, arguing Islamic and non-religious parents often want children brought up with a Judeo-Christian grounding. sought comment from both sides of politics about the prospect of introducing secular ethics classes in Queensland, nearly a year after the New South Wales government rolled out such courses state-wide as an alternative for non-religious students.

Both Labor and the Coalition in NSW support the ethics classes, saying students who did not attend religious education sessions should have access to some structured learning rather than being sent to the library for private study.

But their Queensland counterparts appear to be lukewarm on the idea. LNP education spokesman Bruce Flegg said the party was not planning to alter any legislation at this time, but would be happy to consider any proposals or submissions.

“The LNP believe that the overwhelming majority of Queenslanders want their children brought up with a Judeo-Christian grounding in religious education,” he said in a written response. “In many cases this applies to people who themselves may not be particularly religious.

“I am sure this also applies to the increasing number of Queenslanders who identify themselves as Islamic. The LNP is therefore supportive of RE in schools.”

Dr Flegg said he respected the view of people who objected to a faith-based RE program but the overwhelming majority “still want their children to understand values as they underpin our community”.

The government was last night unable to provide figures on the extent of religious education participation in Queensland state schools.

Queensland's education laws allow approved representatives of denominations and faith groups entry into state schools to provide religious instruction of up to one hour per week.

However, this is meant to be provided only to children whose parents have nominated that religion on their enrolment forms or to children whose parents have given written permission. Parents can opt out, with students sent to alternative activities, such as reading or studying.

Education Minister Cameron Dick did not express a view on ethics classes but said Education Queensland would seek further information from NSW following the first full year of the program, which began at the start of 2011.

Mr Dick said principals had discretion over the types of activities offered to students who did not attend religious instruction classes.

“Alternatives already exist, which include wider reading, doing personal research, revision of class work or other activities at the discretion of the principal,” he said in a written response. “These decisions are made by principals at the local level. Principals may decide to provide an ethics-based class.”

A year ago, the then-Labor NSW government announced it would give parents the choice to place their children into secular ethics classes instead of religion lessons after declaring a pilot program a success.

In the trial, year 5 and 6 students explored philosophical issues surrounding how they ought to live and what principles should guide ethical decision making.

Each of the 10 lessons in the trial explored a particular ethical question, such as what made a practice or action fair or unfair, and students had to discuss their reasoning. Other topics included lying, ethical principles, graffiti, the use and abuse of animals, interfering with nature, virtues and vices, and children's rights.

The ethics classes were spearheaded by the St James Ethics Centre which developed a 10-week lesson program delivered by volunteers.

The philosophical ethics program was rolled out more broadly from the start of this year, with students encouraged to engage in dialogue and discussion on ethical issues.

The NSW Coalition, which swept to power in March, insists it will maintain an election commitment to keep the ethics classes available "because the government believes that there ought to be an alternative provided for students who are not taking scripture classes".

Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens' Associations state president Margaret Leary said yesterday the ethics class idea had not been raised as a major topic within the organisation. She said non-religious students were sent to the library or other areas to read, study or perform other learning activities.

It would be interesting to see how the ethics courses worked in NSW, she said.

University of South Australia ethics and philosophy lecturer Sue Knight, who last year evaluated the NSW pilot program, made a broader point about the lack of structured alternatives to religious instruction in state schools across the country.

Humanist Society of Queensland president Maria Proctor said last year ethics classes had merit, but they should not be limited to students not attending religious instruction.

Ms Proctor said her organisation, which defended the separation of church and state, disliked religious instruction being provided in state schools and believed students should not be “segregated based on what their parents believe”.


Huge Australian warrior charmed by the Queen

One of Australia's most decorated soldiers has met with the Queen at Buckingham Palace for a one-on-one private audience during which the monarch asked for intimate details of the war in Afghanistan.

Australian Army Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith received the Victoria Cross for Australia in January after his efforts during an operation in Afghanistan in June 2010, when he killed three insurgents who were attacking his patrol.

After the 33-year-old's meeting in the palace's private apartments on Tuesday, Corporal Roberts-Smith said that the "lovely" Queen had shown interest in what happened on the day his patrol was targeted.

"We talked mainly about Afghanistan and obviously a great opportunity for me to tell her about what everyone else in my [patrol] did that day, so I got to explain to her a bit of what everyone did as opposed to just myself," he told reporters inside the palace grounds. "Obviously she speaks to quite a lot of soldiers, so she was interested in Afghanistan and she has a good grasp of what's happening there. I think that her reaction was, she was just glad that we all came home."

A father to twin baby girls, Corporal Roberts-Smith said the remainder of the conversation was "personal", and declined to share details.

"She is everything that everyone says she is. She's very, just a lovely lady," the soldier said of the 85-year-old Queen, who was dressed in bright blue for the meeting. "She made me very comfortable, it was easy to talk to her and ... it's very humbling, it's very surreal, I just found it to be a great opportunity to talk to her about what my mates and what the other lads are doing in Afghanistan, as in the other Australians."

As proof that his visit was a true royal experience, Corporal Roberts-Smith said he even passed some of the Queen's dogs en route to the meeting. "We actually walked past the corgis in the hallway. It's true what they say, they certainly have the run of the place," he laughed.

Of his gallantry in Afghanistan, Corporal Roberts-Smith said he has a vivid recollection of events. "That day for me is as clear as ever," he said.

"At the time it was just something that needed to be done. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to move forward and neutralise that position and I think the most important thing I took away from it was that that day we took everyone home and we had a win."

Corporal Roberts-Smith said the Queen "obviously recognises that Australian soldiers are very good at what they do" and that she is happy with progress in Afghanistan.

The Special Air Service Regiment member will embark on a tour of France over coming days, visiting battlefields where Australian soldiers have died, and speaking with school children about the legacy of war.


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