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No sugar tax in sight

The Federal Government has signalled it is unlikely to implement a sugar tax or other financial incentives to influence eating habits.

Convening the first meeting of its Healthy Food Partnership, Rural Health Minister Fiona Nash – who also has oversight of food policy – indicated that although the Federal Government wanted to encourage consumers to make healthier food choices, it would not seek to “force feed” them.

“Government can’t force feed healthy food to its citizens,” Senator Nash said. “It is up to individuals to take responsibility for what they eat. Government’s role is to educate and provide tools to help people make healthy choices.”

The Partnership includes representatives from food manufacturers and producers, industry groups, the Public Health Association and the Heart Foundation.

Senator Nash said it had been formed to come up with strategies to increase the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as to reformulate food to make it healthier, and to “deal with” issues of portion and serve sizes.

Organ donations on the rise

There was a 10 per cent increase in the number of deceased organ donors in the first nine months of the year.

Australian and New Zealand Organ Donation Registry figure show there were 320 deceased donors between January and September, and there were 907 transplant recipients – including 48 who received multiple organs.

AMA President Professor Brian Owler said the increase was encouraging but, with about 1600 people waiting for a transplant at any one time, many more donors were needed.

Professor Owler encouraged people to think about becoming a donor, and urged families to respect the wishes of those who chose to become a donor.

Rural health talks

Rural Health Minister Fiona Nash has convened a meeting of 17 organisations representing rural health professionals, students and instructors as part of an effort to boost health services in the bush.

Senator Nash said a key focus of discussions was ways to increase the number of doctors and other health professionals working in rural and regional areas.

The Minister said that it was not just more doctors who were needed in rural areas, but the whole gamut of other health professionals, including nurses, physiotherapists and dentists.

Fmr NSW Health Minster joins Medical Deans

Former New South Wales Deputy Premier and Health Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, has become head of the peak body representing the nation’s Medical Deans.

Ms Tebbutt, who entered NSW Parliament in 1998 and served in a variety of ministerial portfolios while in government, did not contest the 2015 State election.

She is married to Federal Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese.

Online credential check for overseas doctors

Overseas medical graduates looking to work in Australia will now have their qualifications verified through a web-based system that will also allow them to keep electronic records of education, training and licensing credential following an agreement struck by the Australian Medical Council and the US-based Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates.

Under the deal the AMC, which provides a centralised service for specialist medical colleges and other organisations to check the credentials of international applicants, requires overseas medical graduates (OMGs) to have their qualifications and experience verified by the Commission from primary sources through its Electronic Portfolio of International Credential (EPIC) program.

The AMC said the EPIC program provided it with a secure, web-based platform for authenticating the credentials of applicants, and enabled paperless processing and record-keeping.

The Commission said OMGs could use EPIC to build a “digital portfolio” of verified credentials accessible anywhere, and could be used to satisfy the requirements of regulators, potential employers and other organisations.

Put cancer drugs on fast track

The Federal Government should speed up approval processes for new cancer drugs and look at developing a national medicines register, a Senate inquiry has recommended.

An investigation into the availability of specialist cancer drugs said that the current trend toward a larger range of treatments that are targeted at small populations of patients is likely to continue, putting increasing pressure on the medicines approval process.

Senator Catryna Bilyk, who was a member of the inquiry, told Parliament that there was increasingly a personalised medicine approach in which the genetics of tumours are established and high-throughput screening of existing medications is undertaken to determine which drugs that show activity against the tumour. This is used by oncologists to inform their treatment.

“More targeted medicines and therapies have the ability to increase the range of treatment options for cancer patients, resulting in improved quality of life and survival for many patients,” Senator Bilyk said.

But such treatments can be very expensive, and often patients face a lengthy wait before they can get subsidised access while regulators, medical experts and ministers assess them for efficacy and cost effectiveness.

The inquiry recommended a comprehensive review of the system, including looking at fast-track processes used overseas, and suggested the Government consider setting up a national register of cancer medicines.

National registration for paramedics

The Federal Government has opposed a move to establish a single national registration scheme for paramedics.

A majority of the nation’s health ministers agreed to include paramedics in the National Registration Accreditation Scheme at a meeting in Adelaide last month, overriding the objections of Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley.

The move is seen as consistent with a push to establish nationally-recognised qualifications across a range of occupations.

But New South Wales has reserved its right to opt out of the process, and, according to a communique from the meeting, Ms Ley argued it was “not consistent with the principles of the NRAS as a national regulatory reform”.

Adrian Rollins