Efficiency penalty fears
HOSPITALS that have adopted more efficient practices by admitting only the most seriously ill patients while arranging for others to be cared for at home may lose out under the federal government’s new funding formula, according to The Australian. Dr Paul Tridgell, a former director of medical services at Sydney’s Westmead Hospital who is now a consultant to four states on hospital costs and efficiency, says under the COAG agreement on health reforms state and federal ministers have underestimated the complexity of a proposed activity-based funding scheme which, far from driving efficiency, may instead increase bureaucracy and create incentives for poor care.

AHPRA chaos to end
HEALTH ministers have pledged extra resources in a bid to end the chaos at Australia’s new national health registration agency, which has been deluged with complaints about understaffing and a backlog of registration applications, The Australian reports. Hundreds of doctors, nurses and other health workers have complained they were effectively deregistered by the Australian Health Practitioners Regulatory Agency, which took over from state boards in July last year. AHPRA will reinstate doctors, nurses and others whose registrations had unintentionally lapsed. The federal government said it would also “consider” continuing to pay Medicare rebates to patients of doctors and others whose registrations had lapsed by mistake.

Zinc relieves colds
SCIENTISTS haven’t discovered a cure for the common cold, but researchers now say zinc may be the next best thing, the New York Times reports. A sweeping new review of medical research on zinc, reported in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, shows that when taken within 24 hours of the first runny nose or sore throat, zinc lozenges, tablets or syrups can cut colds short by an average of a day or more and sharply reduce the severity of symptoms.

Baldness cancer link
MEN who start going bald by the age of 20 are twice as likely to develop prostate cancer later in life, The Australian reports. If confirmed, the findings would allow men to be screened decades before the average age of disease onset and offered preventive treatment. The study, in the journal Annals of Oncology, found that men with the disease were twice as likely to have started going bald when they were 20 as those in a control group. Finasteride, already used for hair regrowth and to treat benign prostate tumours, could in future be used as a preventive treatment.

Pertussis alert
THE death of a newborn baby from whooping cough in Melbourne has triggered a call for Victorians to vaccinate against pertussis, The Age reports. Health authorities said it was the first death to be linked to pertussis in Victoria since 2004, and coincided with an unprecedented whooping cough epidemic for the state. A Health Department spokesman said there had been 1353 infections reported since January in Victoria — more than double the 628 cases for the same period last year.

Cost of fast-food binge
RESEARCHERS say a rise in average cholesterol levels could be linked to increased spending on fast food during the global financial crisis, The Age reports. The researchers from the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne conducted Australia’s largest-ever study of cholesterol levels. They say a fast-food binge could explain the rise after five years of decline. Lead author Professor Simon Stewart said it was unclear whether the slight rise in cholesterol levels in the study of 200 000 people, whose cholesterol was managed by GPs between 2004 and 2009, would continue or if it was indicative of the wider population.

Reports delayed
QUEENSLAND mental health administrators are taking five times as long as they should to hand over psychiatric reports after ill people are charged with criminal offences, the Brisbane Times reports. The problems, highlighted in a government report, have come to notice again four years after a major review of the state’s mental health laws slammed such delays as “concerning and unsatisfactory”. The Director of Mental Health sends a notice to the patient’s treating health service and the local administrator must then arrange for an examination by a psychiatrist “as soon as practicable”. The Mental Health Act sets a 21-day deadline but the average wait last financial year was 115 days.

Doctors speak out
FRUSTRATED doctors at Royal North Shore Hospital have publicly criticised the NSW government’s management of the hospital’s $1 billion redevelopment, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. In a rare move, some of the hospital’s most prominent doctors, including the heads of intensive care, mental health, gastrointestinal surgery and women’s and children’s services, as well as the Dean of Medicine at the University of Sydney, have violated NSW Health rules by speaking out. The government plans to sell large areas of land around Royal North Shore, a major referral hospital and trauma centre for the state, potentially hampering hospital operations and preventing expansion.

Power of beliefs
RESEARCHERS have shown that a patient’s belief that a drug will not work can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, BBC News reports. The study, published in Science Translational Medicine, showed that the benefits of painkillers could be boosted or completely wiped out by manipulating expectations. They also identified the regions of the brain which are affected. Experts said this could have important consequences for patient care and for testing new drugs.

Business identifies health failures
THE Business Council of Australia has warned that the health sector requires more dramatic reforms to drive efficiency and safety if it is to meet the needs of an ageing population and rising demand for sophisticated care, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. The Council has released a report identifying what it says are “market failures” in health care, including the lack of information on performance of doctors and hospitals, inadequate incentives for good results and a lack of penalties for poor outcomes in patient care. It says more extensive changes are needed to empower consumers than what is proposed in the health reform agreement.

Posted 21 February 2011

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