The Health News – 12 February 2014

Overview

  • Labor’s senate leader Penny Wong has questioned assistant health minister Fiona Nash on the controversial removal of a health department website last week.
  • Queensland’s auditor-general has referred several doctors to the Crime and Misconduct Commission to investigate if they have defrauded Queensland Health.
  • In QLD, hundreds of residents from the Wide Bay area are being contacted by the state health department for dental treatment, some of whom have been waiting up to 12 years for treatment.


Health News on HPR.

Labor questions Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash over staffer’s links to food industry following removal of website – by Lexi Metherell
Labor’s senate leader Penny Wong has questioned assistant health minister Fiona Nash on the controversial removal of a health department website last week. The website was to educate consumers on the new front-of-pack food information labels, but was taken down less than a day after it went live. When questioned by health experts about why the site was removed when its information was accurate, a spokesperson for the health department said that it was a draft site published by mistake. But Penny Wong questioned whether Minister Nash’s chief-of-staff being married to the head of a lobby group, which had previously targeted the food industry, had anything to do with the website’s removal. The minister replied “The Leader of the Opposition knows full well that Ms Tracey Cain is the wife of my chief-of-staff, which she could have indicated to the chamber rather than asked me the question. There is no connection whatsoever between my chief-of-staff and the company Australian Public Affairs. My chief-of-staff has no connection with the food industry, and is simply doing his job as my chief-of-staff.” Ms Cain, head of lobby group Australian Public Affairs, told media outlets that since the Coalition was elected, the group had not lobbied the health department or any health ministers and would not do so. The commencement of the food labelling scheme is pending a cost-benefit analysis by the federal government and final sign-off by state governments.

Queensland auditor-general refers some public hospital doctors to CMC over possible fraud – by Melinda Howells
Queensland’s auditor-general has referred several doctors to the Crime and Misconduct Commission to investigate if they have defrauded Queensland Health with offences like claiming excessive overtime and double-billing. The auditor-general investigated 88 of the state’s 2500 senior medical officers, and found that 7 of them had not worked their rostered hours for over 30 days, and doctors on leave were paid $0.5m in overtime. QLD health minister Lawrence Springborg says the reports show failures of the system. He said “The report highlights gaps in both rostering and attendance processes and treatment and billing practices, which have been open to exploitation. Inadequate oversight and administration, and we’ve had double dipping and we’ve had people that have taken advantage. I’m talking here today about a small number of doctors – the majority of people are doing the right thing. Matters are going to be referred to the Crime and Misconduct Commission in Queensland. Also there are a number of recommendations which have been made to improve scrutiny and oversight in the system, which will all be implemented and adopted by the Government.”
But Alex Scott of the Together Union believes the report is a distraction from the state government’s current push to individual contracts for doctors.

He said “This Government is trying to use a smokescreen of this auditor-general’s report to completely misrepresent the true state of affairs in relation to the hours of work for doctors, the private practice arrangement for doctors.”

Long wait nearly over for dental patients – by Lucinda Kent
In QLD, hundreds of residents from the Wide Bay area are being contacted by the state health department for dental treatment, some of whom have been waiting up to 12 years for treatment.
Wide Bay Hospital CEO Adrian Pennington says extra funding is helping to clear a massive backlog of dental patients, and that the number of patients waiting over 2 years was halved last year, to 4,500 patients. He said “We started the year with a maximum wait of 12 years in Wide Bay and with the federal allocations and the changes we’ve been able to employ seven additional dental teams that started work at the beginning of this year. We’re down to considerably lower numbers now, less than sort of five years across the board. We’ve tried to contact every patient on our list to try and validate that they even still live in the Wide Bay area and certainly a large proportion of cases were removed because of that… (And we’ll make sure that) all of those (patients waiting for) over two years have a date before the end of June.”