Thursday, July 13, 2023

Aged care homes being regulated out of existence

Leftists think you can make good things happen just by passing a law

A growing number of aged-care facilities are closing due to workforce shortages, as regional providers warn they are being left in limbo waiting for exemptions under Labor’s 24/7 nursing ­targets.

At least two aged-care facilities have this week told residents they will shut down citing difficulties meeting the federal government’s new nursing rules introduced on July 1.

The closure of both regional Queensland facilities – Carinity Summit Cottages in Mount Morgan and Petrie Gardens Aged Care Service in Tiaro – will displace 33 elderly residents from their homes.

Carinity owns 12 homes across Queensland while Petrie Gardens is owned by the Churches of Christ, which runs 28 facilities across Queensland and Victoria.

The closures come as regional NSW aged care facilities warn they are being left in limbo waiting for exemptions to be granted for Labor’s 24/7 nursing targets nearly two weeks after they became law, sparking concern they are operating in breach of new rules.

Ahead of the last election, Anthony Albanese unveiled a policy requiring aged care facilities to have at least one nurse working at all times by July 1 – a year earlier than the aged-care royal commission had recommended.

While the government has vowed to give exemptions for some regional providers, aged care operators say the government has not responded to their applications.

NSW provider Whiddon applied for exemptions over six weeks ago but is still waiting to hear whether two of its homes – in Bourke and Wee Waa – will qualify to be exempt from the new policy.

The two homes are located in rural NSW and have been unable to source registered nurses required to be compliant for the law, triggering the provider to apply for exemptions in May.

Whiddon chief executive Chris Marmarelis said sourcing workers in rural NSW was “extremely challenging” and he was yet to receive an exemption from the 24/7 nursing target.

Mr Marmarelis said the Wee Waa Health service had also recently shut its emergency department after hours due to struggles to attract staff.

“In terms of our position, these are extremely challenging locations to attract and retain suitably qualified people to and we must therefore rely on the exemption process in order to continue to serve our communities,” Mr Marmarelis said.

“We would love nothing more than to meet the nursing requirements, however the workforce is simply not there in these locations and even attempts to bring in skilled workers from overseas is extremely challenging.

“It’s an unusual position we find ourselves in, having to comply with the new reforms without a clear understanding of whether an exemption has been granted.”

Australian College of Nursing chief executive Kylie Ward urged the government to provide clarity to providers on whether they would receive an exemption.

She said the government should allow providers an extra six to 12 months to meet the target and questioned the government’s calculations that just 5 per cent of residential services would need exemptions.

“I don’t think it‘s only 5 per cent that’s non-compliant, it’s very hard to see that could be true. Everybody is doing the best they can but people need to know,” Ms Ward said.

The closures in Queensland this week follow 23 facilities shutting down since September last year, according to figures from the Department of Health and Aged care.

Carinity Summit Cottages said a nationwide shortage of aged care staff meant staying open was “not a viable-long term solution” given increases in expectations from the community and regulators on staffing levels in residential facilities.

“A nationwide shortage of aged care staff, combined with Mount Morgan’s regional location, has made maintaining the required staffing levels at Summit Cottages increasingly difficult. The situation has worsened in recent months,” Carinity Summit Cottages said.

“Given the low likelihood that the lack of suitably qualified staff can be overcome, and the increase in expectations from the community and regulators regarding staffing levels in aged care communities, Carinity has no option but to conduct a staged closure of Summit Cottages.”

Petrie Gardens management said its 10 residents will be transferred to a site at Fair Haven.

“In light of the federal government’s changes to age care compliance regulations, including the 24/7 nursing requirement which came into effect on July 1, and the minimum care minutes which will come into effect on October 1, we have made the decision to close our Petrie Gardens residential aged care service by the end of the month,” it said.

Another home, Lyndoch Living in southwest Victoria, last month announced it would close its residential aged facility in Terang blaming “long-term skills shortage which is further impacted by the 24/7 registered nurse requirement”.


Medical insurer drops cover for private doctors who initiate hormone treatments in adolescents with gender dysphoria

They are foreseeing how the winds might change

One of Australia's leading medical insurers has dumped cover for private practising doctors who initiate hormone treatment in adolescents with gender dysphoria, a decision that may put even more pressure on public hospital waiting lists.

MDA National said it will also no longer insure private doctors, such as general practitioners, from legal claims arising from the assessment of patients under 18 as suitable for gender transition treatments, such as cross-sex hormones and gender affirmation surgeries.

The Australian Professional Association for Trans Health (AusPATH), representing hundreds of health professionals who provide care to transgender people, is aware of some GPs who have already stopped gender-affirming care — a model that supports the child's choices and can lead to medical interventions such as puberty blockers and hormone treatment.

AusPATH is concerned the MDA National decision will particularly affect trans youth living outside major cities, who struggle to access public gender services.

"It's going to stop a number of children ever being able to access gender affirming care before they turn 18," AusPATH president Professor Ashleigh Lin said.

The MDA National decision, effective from July 1, comes after the insurer reviewed the medico-legal risks amid what it described as "growing criticism globally of the research that underpins medical and surgical transition of children in response to gender dysphoria".

It was made in response to "the risk of potentially high-value claims arising from irreversible treatments" provided to children and adolescents.

Gender-affirming hormonal therapies with testosterone or oestrogen may cause temporary or permanent infertility.

MDA continues to allow doctors to prescribe puberty blockers to treat trans youth.

While there is evidence of long-term side effect for puberty blockers such as reduced bone density, the effects on puberty are reversible.

"Children are not able to transition without relying on the assessments of medical professionals," MDA National said in a statement to the ABC.

"This places doctors in a uniquely vulnerable position with respect to future litigation – particularly so, if courts take the view that the practitioner has influenced a child's decision to medically or surgically transition and that there are limits to a child's understanding and what they effectively consent to.

"This has led to our view that medical practitioners who assess children as being suitable for transition and/or who initially prescribe cross-sex hormones are at a heightened risk of receiving claims, irrespective of the strength of the consent process and the standard of care or the model of healthcare."


Caged egg ban may hurt the poor more than help the hens

First, a reminder: a chicken is just a chicken. Chooks don’t think and feel like humans.

And a tip: dumb green ideas already cost you plenty and now could double or even triple the price of eggs, making them too expensive for the poor.

That’s because Australia’s agricultural ministers meet this Thursday to discuss banning caged eggs by 2036, 12 years earlier than planned.

They know we’ve been coached by animal rights campaigners into thinking hens in battery cages producing a third of our eggs are sad, but free-range hens out in the paddock couldn’t be happier.

But setting caged hens free will cost many egg farmers millions.

They’ll need much more land to convert to free range, and face extra costs in making sure their hens stay healthy and get their fair share of food in the new free-for-all.

Those extra costs will of course be passed on.

Just compare. A dozen caged eggs here costs under $5. But the price of eggs in New Zealand, which banned battery hens this year, has rocketed to more than double that, and for just 10 eggs in a carton.

That means New Zealand now has the second-most expensive eggs in the world, after Switzerland, which also bans caged eggs.

But are these bans based on emotion, not facts? Does a chicken in a cage really feel like Jean Valjean in a cell?

Sydney University’s Dr Jeff Downing a decade ago tested stress levels of caged chickens and free-range ones, measuring the quantity of stress hormones, corticosterone, in their eggs.

Surprise. Virtually no difference.

“Once you get into very large group sizes, there is so much social interaction that this can be quite stressful for some hens,” said Downing. “There is far more potential in these big group sizes for social stress.”

Indeed, it’s chickens-against-chickens that taught us “hen-pecked”.

Dr Charles Milne, Victoria’s former chief vet, also warned that a chicken in a paddock might not be happier.

“Chickens are related to forest-dwelling birds. They don’t like open spaces. Free-range can deliver huge welfare problems.”

No wonder the birds are anxious, not just figuring their place in the pecking order but worrying about hawks and foxes. Diseases also spread more easily, and food shared less fairly.

Yet it’s for this that eggs could become another luxury, hurting the poor more than helping the hens.


Australian trial of seaweed cow feed fails to achieve hoped-for methane cuts

One of the world’s longest commercial trials of a seaweed supplement that the global meat industry hopes could slash methane from beef cattle has recorded much lower reductions in the potent greenhouse gas than previous studies.

Putting the supplement into the diets of 40 wagyu cattle in an Australian feedlot for 300 days cut the methane they produced by 28%.

The supplement was derived from the red seaweed species Asparagopsis, which has been widely promoted as being able to cut methane by more than 80%, with some experiments suggesting reductions as high as 96%.

Globally, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates, methane from burping cattle – known as enteric emissions – releases about 2.1bn tonnes of CO2-equivalent a year, compared with the 37.5bn tonnes of CO2 from burning fossil fuels.

But because methane is about 80 times more potent than CO2 at warming the planet over a 20-year period, cutting methane is seen as a way to slow global heating faster.

The trial, reported by the red meat industry’s marketing and research group Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), also found animals given the supplement ate less food and weighed 15kg less by the time they were sent for slaughter.

Dr Fran Cowley, a livestock scientist at the University of New England who led the trial, said it was the longest run so far using the red seaweed.

She said more research was needed to understand why the wagyu in the trial had not delivered the same level of emissions reductions as other experiments.

One factor could be the way the methane was measured in the trial, which used an open-air system in a feedlot compared with animals measured in dedicated indoor chambers.

But the trial report noted that other experiments over shorter timeframes using the same open-air measurement technique had recorded higher methane reductions.

“This was the biggest and longest trial so far and [the supplement] has not performed to the levels seen in the headlines people might have picked up. But that doesn’t mean it can’t,” Cowley said.

Cowley said she thought cuts of 90% “in the real world” were possible but there would also be economic factors that commercial producers would have to take, such as factoring in the cost of the supplement against the market benefits of methane reductions.

The seaweed was mixed in canola oil and added to the animals’ feed. In this trial it was given to the animals at slightly lower concentrations than other experiments that showed much higher methane reductions.

Cowley said it was also not clear why the animals on the supplement ate less food and put on weight more slowly.

Accounting for the extra 35 days the animals would have taken to reach the same weight would have theoretically meant the emissions savings were cut from 28% to 19% as they would have been alive for longer, all the time emitting methane.

Wagyu is considered a higher-end and more expensive beef. The trial found the seaweed supplement had no effect on the meat’s properties, including flavour.

Dr Rob Kinley is a pioneer of the Asparagopsis supplement and the chief scientist at FutureFeed – the Australian company that holds the intellectual property for its use globally as a livestock feed supplement.

He said it was not surprising the trial had seen lower results given the differences across breeds, measuring techniques, diets of the animals and the amount of supplement given to the animals.

But Kinley said it should be celebrated that the supplement was able to cut methane over such a long period and is confident other trials would deliver far higher reductions.

“The golden lining is even though it was just under 30% emissions reduction, it stayed that way for 275 days – it hardly faltered at all and I was impressed by that,” he said.

The Australian government funds a $29m research program to test different methane-reducing livestock supplements, including red seaweed.

The latest trial was financially backed by the country’s biggest beef producer, the Australian Agricultural Company (AACo), which helped run the trial and provided the animals.

The AACo chief executive, David Harris, said the company had anticipated bigger methane cuts but “reducing emissions by almost 30% is still significant”.

“There is no silver bullet to eliminating enteric methane emissions, but we’ll keep trying and we’ll discover how to make it work in our environment,” he said. “The important thing is that we are determined to get there.”

Most trials of methane-reducing supplements report emissions reductions only while animals are in the feedlot. Only 12%-15% of AACo’s emissions occur while the animals are in a feedlot.

An MLA spokesperson said: “Each time a new research project concludes, it places another piece into the puzzle, helping us understand the various products that might incorporate Asparagopsis and also helps us to understand further questions that need to be answered.”




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