This week’s Health Wrap has been compiled by my colleague Ellice Mol – Digital Communications Manager at the Sax Institute.

By Ellice Mol

Nation-wide health funding dilemmas

As Federal, State and Territory leaders came together this past fortnight, NSW Premier Mike Baird called for an increase in the GST from 10% to 15% to help meet the rising cost of health funding and prevent the federal-state financial system from “tumbling over a fiscal cliff”. Baird released a video on his Twitter account saying he was sick of politics in this country with the “point scoring, fear, smear [and] who wins the daily news cycle”. He also said of the big problems ahead, “the biggest challenge we face is in our health system”.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott applauded Baird’s GST suggestion, saying the proposal would be discussed with state and territory leaders, where a recommendation by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews to increase the Medicare levy would also be considered, according to The Australian (paywalled). But a report in the SMH warned a GST increase would still fall billions of dollars short of the revenue needed for escalating national health care costs.

Meanwhile,the ABC reported on widespread anger over Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey’s plans to cut $80 billion from health and education funding over the next decade with state and territory leaders accusing the Commonwealth of trying to “wedge” them into an increase of the GST.

Emeritus Professor Stephen Leeder from the Menzies Centre for Health Policy at the University of Sydney, put things into context with a piece written for The Conversation and Croakey, on the rising cost health funding. Leeder writes about “the difficulty the states and territories face in raising revenue to meet the demand of rising expectations from an expanding and ageing population and reduced contributions from the Commonwealth”.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the leaders meeting agreed that chronic care issues of diabetes, heart disease and mental health required particular attention and changes to GST and the Medicare levy remained on the table.

In a blog post for Croakey Leanne Wells examined the recent discussion around extending Medicare into hospitals, removing incentives for Commonwealth and state cost shifting, and facilitating better and more effective care for patients. She said a move to better integration across all elements of frontline care was welcome and referred to the successful integrated health and social services system developed in Canterbury in New Zealand.

Also for Croakey, Associate Professor Samantha Battams said while everyone was talking about healthcare and GST, they might like to think about healthcare priorities in terms of investing in public health to save dollars further down the track. In a provocative piece that has generated some interesting discussions on Twitter, Michael Thorn, Chief Executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, argued that public health advocacy needs to become more effective, and that it is too timid and naive.

Meanwhile, this recommended Croakey LongRead is a powerful reminder of the importance of effective, holistic primary healthcare in improving population health, describing the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress as “one of the best examples in the world of a comprehensive primary health care service”. The article is based upon speeches by  Donna Ah Chee, CEO of Congress, and Marion Scrymgour, chairperson of AMSANT, to the recent Third National Aboriginal Health Summit in Darwin.


Calls for urgent action on alcohol continue

Reaction to the House of Representatives Standing Committee report Alcohol: hurting people and harming communities, continued, with the Royal Australian College of Physicians backing several of the recommendations including the call for a national minimum floor price on alcohol and a volumetric tax on alcohol.

“Every day, physicians see the harmful effects of alcohol abuse, whether in the addiction clinics, the emergency department, orthopaedic wards, rehabilitation centres or liver clinics,” RACP President Professor Nick Talley said. “These problems are even more acute in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities where the incidence of alcohol-related harms and other physical and mental health disorders is much higher.”

As reports continued to emerge that the suicide rate among Indigenous Australians is nearly double the rate of suicide among non-Indigenous Australians, frontbenchers, community leaders and mental health experts met to discuss mental illness in Indigenous communities, The Guardian reported.

Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley told the media: “We all have to do better. We know that we haven’t done enough and we also realise that by including Indigenous mental health in this roundtable we will give it the attention it deserves.”

Meanwhile federal ministers have been urged to avert an Aboriginal health tragedy in western Sydney by stopping the closure of the Aboriginal Medical Service Western Sydney (AMSWS), Croakey reported. A number of open letters to Federal Ministers Sussan Ley, Nigel Scullion and Fiona Nash were published, with one warning that the AMSWS closure would be “potentially catastrophic”.

Meanwhile, $10 million of new federal funding has been accepted by the Northern Territory government, The Guardian reported. The money will be allocated to accommodation services infrastructure in Tennant Creek and Alice Springs for end-stage renal patients, the assistant federal health minister Fiona Nash announced.


A racism-free future

Writing for Croakey in support of the @IndigenousX crowdfunding campaign, GP Dr Tim Senior said we “should be doing all we can, both as health professionals, and as organisations, to make health facilities racism-free environments, in the same way they are smoke-free environments”. The campaign is designed to help @IndigenousXLtd become a bigger online media presence to foster more listening and increase the number of conversations being had between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people about issues critical to the nation’s future.

Importantly, many health organisations are listed among those who signed a statement – full details were published at Croakey – taking a stand against the racism directed against prominent Aboriginal AFL player and former Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes.

Croakey continued its important focus on justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with a post on justice reinvestment, a recent topic at the ALP national conference. And it looked at the Change the Record campaign, launched earlier this year by the National Justice Coalition, of leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, community and human rights organisations. In an article as part of the #JustJustice series, Shane Duffy and Kirstie Parker from the Coalition discuss the campaign’s approach.


Technology-ethics tensions

Leading obstetricians are calling on Australian health authorities to subsidise fetal DNA blood testing, which they say is a less invasive and more accurate method for testing foetal conditions including Down syndrome, the ABC reported. Professors Caroline de Costa and Jan Dickinson wrote an editorial in the MJA calling for the test to be more widely available Professor de Costa told the ABC that “one of problems with existing technology is that there are a certain number of false positive results.”

But the development and uptake of non-invasive prenatal testing is moving so fast that essential ethics discussions are lagging behind, according to a leading maternal–fetal expert, MJA Insight reported.  Dr Stephen Cole, specialist in maternal–fetal medicine at the Melbourne Obstetric Group, said while the advances in non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) were revolutionary, the new technology was “a double-edged sword” for patients who were faced with difficult decisions.


Plain packaging pain for tax-payers

The SMH reported that regulators in Australia could introduce graphic warning labels on alcoholic beverages, soft drinks and unhealthy food, according to a senior lawyer from the firm taking on the World Trade Organisation on behalf of British American Tobacco.

David Wallace, from the defence team that won the first tobacco case in the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland, told the paper that corporations in Australia and elsewhere would need to prepare for cross-border litigation.

Meanwhile Australia’s legal bill for defending its cigarette plain packaging legislation, in a case brought by Philip Morris, has hit the papers this week as the cost nears $50 million. Australia has already succeeded in splitting the case into two. The first will decide whether Philip Morris has a case to bring. Former health minister Nicola Roxon could be called as a witness if Australia continues to fight the case.


Mixed medical news

A molecule that mimics exercise could help treat type 2 diabetes and obesity, News Medical reported. The researchers, who published their results in the journal Chemistry and Biology, said they believed their work held much promise as a potential therapeutic agent.”

Eight year old Zion Harvey was the recipient of the world’s first double hand transplant, according to Science alert. A donor became available three months after Harvey was listed for the transplant. The procedure was successfully completed by a team at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

An article from Scientific American offered new hope for millions of people who experience vertigo. New treatments are being tested to tackle the crippling difficulties of vertigo, including a clinical trial of prosthetic ear implants and ear gene therapy, with initial work revealing novel aspects of brain anatomy linked to balance which could be used as targets for future treatments.

The SMH said that science had confirmed the “dad bod” was real. Men who became fathers experienced an increase in BMI, according to a new, large-scale study that tracked more than 10,000 men over a 20-year period. Findings published in the American Journal of Men’s Health showed that first-time dads who lived with their children experienced an average 2.6% increase in BMI over the study period, while men who did not become dads actually lost weight. The researchers suggested the weight gain may be the result of lifestyle changes.

A new campaign called “Something haunting you” aims to humorously engage young men in practical ways to overcome everyday stressors ‒ depicted as zombies following them around. The campaign, an initiative of the Young and Well Co-operative Research Centre, encourages 15-17 year old males to take action and overcome the problem “zombies” following them, such as exam stress, relationship problems, peer pressure and body image doubts.

British neurologist and author of numerous titles including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Professor Oliver Sacks, has declared death is no longer “an all-too-close, not-to-be-denied presence” in a piece for the New York Times in which he tells of a recent CT scan that confirmed metastases on his liver have not only regrown but have spread.

In a touching tribute, oncologist Ranjana Srivastava wrote in The Guardian about Sacks’ “achingly beautiful” writing as he concedes to death and “reminds us that there is value in embracing our mortality” and that there is indeed an art to dying.


Other Croakey reading you may have missed this fortnight:

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