Nurse rebate rebellion
A REBELLION over the extension of Medicare rebates to cover independent nurses is gathering steam among GPs, The Australian reports. Practitioners at an 11-doctor practice in Hobart have written to medical specialists and radiology and pathology providers about referrals from nurse practitioners. The GPs said in the letter that they “would like to make it very clear that we do not wish to receive copies of pathology, radiology or specialist letters that have been requested by nurse practitioners”. AMA Tasmanian branch president Dr Michael Aizen says he plans to raise the letter for discussion at the next AMA federal council meeting.

Epilepsy “fault” discovered
AUSTRALIAN researchers say they have unlocked the secret of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP), a condition that kills about 150 Australians a year, ABC News reports. Scientists from the Centenary Institute examined blood samples from people with epilepsy who had died suddenly and found there were genetic faults in the heart and brain. Institute assistant director Professor Chris Semsarian says the finding will allow doctors to determine if a patient with epilepsy is at risk of dying suddenly.

Junior doctors take action
JUNIOR doctors in NSW are taking action against hospitals that force them to work more than 100 hours a week, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. The Health Services Union, which represents about 5500 interns, resident doctors and registrars, is demanding NSW Health pay junior doctors more for on-call shifts and give them breaks between shifts to put an end to doctors working up to 36 hours straight. Junior doctors are paid double time after working 12 hours, but when they have logged 24 hours the pay reverts to single time. They are paid an allowance of $13.10 for being on call for 24 hours.

New skin cancer drugs
CLINICAL trials have found that at least two new drugs could significantly prolong the lives of people with skin cancers, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. Professor Richard Kefford, from the Melanoma Institute of Australia, said while the drugs were not a cure, they were “the most important breakthrough in melanoma [treatment] yet”. He said trials showed the drugs prolonged life and could shrink tumours. It is believed the drugs will be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration by the end of next year.

HIV genetic code cracked
AN international research team has cracked the genetic code of those who survive with HIV free of symptoms, the Boston Globe reports. The researchers discovered five amino acids that separate the small cadre of HIV survivors from the vast majority who must take medication or face death. Authors of the study, published in Science, cautioned that a vaccine remains years away. The researchers said the differences they found cause small changes on the surface of HIV-infected cells, which could alter the immune system’s response to the virus.

Junk food tax “unfair”
AN obesity expert says Australia’s childhood obesity problem is an “exaggeration” and that calls for a junk food tax will do little to relieve the poverty that is its major driver, The Daily Telegraph reports. Dr Jenny O’Dea, associate professor in nutrition and health education in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney, said the rate of childhood obesity among low income families was almost double that seen across middle and high income families. She said a tax on junk foods would only place extra financial strain on those families when a “social justice” approach was needed.

Kidney disease tipped to triple
A REPORT from Kidney Health Australia (KHA) predicts that treating serious kidney disease will cost the health system $12 billion over the next decade, ABC News reports. KHA is forecasting the number of people needing treatment for serious kidney disease will triple to 30 000 by 2020. It says the key to bringing down the huge cost is for more people to undergo dialysis at home, saving the health system about $30 000 a year per patient. Dr Tim Mathew, medical director of KHA, says home dialysis is likely to prolong patients’ lives.

Fish oil no help in Alzheimer’s
A US study has found that the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in fish oil does not slow the progress of Alzheimer’s disease, ABC News reports. Researchers reported in JAMA on a study of 400 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. Half were given 2 grams a day of DHA and the others a placebo. After 18 months those who had taken DHA scored no better than the controls in cognitive tests and showed no difference in brain shrinkage over the period of the study.

CT screening reduces lung cancer deaths
A LARGE US study has found that screening heavy smokers with low-dose computed tomography (CT) instead of X-rays can reduce deaths from lung cancer by 20%, The Australian reports. The National Lung Screening Trial studied more than 50 000 current and former heavy smokers aged 55–74 to determine whether screening with low-dose helical or spiral CT would reduce lung cancer mortality. Although more research is needed, “the assumption is that a larger number of early cancers that would have been lethal were removed in patients who had undergone helical CT scanning”, researchers said.

Baby boom over
LATEST figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicate Australia’s decade-long baby boom has “stalled”, with 295 700 infants born last year, 900 fewer than 2008, The Australian reports. The fertility rate declined from 1.96 babies per woman in 2008 to 1.90 last year. Mothers aged 40–44 were the only age group to record an increased birth rate last year, from 14.1 births per 1000 women to 14.2. The most fertile age is 30–34, at 124 births per 1000 women last year, down from 127 births per 1000 women in 2008.

Posted 8 November 2010

One thought on “Health headlines: our top ten

  1. Hugh Nelson says:

    CT screening of chronic smokers saves lives, but what is the cost of one PYLL (potential years of life lost)? It probably couldn’t compete with offering free Boostrix to every adult to prevent needless infant deaths from pertussis.

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