The Health News – 14 October 2014


  • Two doctors have been stood down at Cairns Hospital in far north Queensland as a review into the handling of an Ebola scare proceeds.
  • The AMA is hosting a National Alcohol Summit in Canberra on 28-29 October 2014 at the National Convention Centre. This event will bring together representatives from all tiers of government, community leaders, medical and health experts, police, families of victims, and other stakeholders to develop practical measures and enduring solutions to alcohol-related harms in the Australian community.
  • A groundbreaking public health campaign focusing on education and physical activity, started after The Biggest Loser TV program came to town, has seen Ararat go from being one of the fattest towns in Australia to now being close to the national average.


News on Health Professional Radio. Today is the 31st October 2014. Read by Rebecca Foster.

Two neurologists whose work has paved the way for personalising treatments for different types of epilepsy … [were honoured this week].

Professor Sam Berkovic AC and Professor Ingrid Scheffer AO of the University of Melbourne …receive[d] the $300,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science at a ceremony at Parliament House in Canberra.

The two researchers have been instrumental in pinning down the genetic basis for some types of epilepsy such as Dravet syndrome.

Epilepsy is a disorder involving recurrent and unprovoked seizures, which can affect about 4 per cent of the population.

Three quarters of epilepsy cases have no apparent cause but, says Berkovic, genetics is responsible for most of them.

After training as a neurologist, Berkovic was introduced to genetics while studying epilepsy at McGill University in Montreal in the 1980s.

Then, when he returned to Australia, he was involved in one of the largest twin studies in the world that showed just how important genetics was in epilepsy.

He wanted to extend this work to families, so in 1991, he teamed up with paediatric neurologist Dr Ingrid Scheffer, who was studying epilepsy in large families for her PhD.

Berkovic says he and Scheffer complement each other in a “wonderful partnership”.

In 1995, Berkowicz, Scheffer and colleagues identified the first gene connected to epilepsy.

Since then, dozens of genes have been identified, creating a very complex picture of the role of genes in epilepsy.

Despite all this complexity, a clear strategy for research is emerging.

Many epilepsy genes affect similar pathways, which can be the target for drug treatments, says Berkovic.

Berkovic and Scheffer are also associated with the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, and Austin Health.

Other prizes [included]

Dr Matthew Hill from CSIRO’s Integrated Nanoporoous Materials team at CSIRO [was awarded]… the $50,000 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year. Hill has created the world’s most porous crystals that can be used as efficient and long-lasting filters. This has many applications in industry from natural gas separation to safe compact storage systems for hydrogen.

The $50,000 Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year will go to Professor Ryan Lister of the University of Western Australia. Lister’s mapping of how our genes are turned on and off and his explanation as to why certain cells in plants and animals differ could transform agriculture, regenerative medicine and brain research.

Medibank Private’s broker allocation has been eight times over-subscribed, the first indication of hot demand for the float.

Stock brokers put in almost $12 billion worth of bids for Medibank Private shares on behalf of their clients, but will only receive an allocation of up to $1.5 billion.

The Federal Government says that allocation may be further reduced by another 20 per cent demand on demand from major financial institutions.

Demand for Medibank private stock for investors acting through their brokers was worth more than double the value of the company if it sells at the top of its indicative price range of $2 per share.

However, the Government says would-be investors in Medibank can still apply through the general public offer, which remain open until November 14.

Investors will not find out the final price or allocation of shares until November 25, when the institutional offer has closed.

The Victorian Opposition has promised to lock-in minimum staffing levels for nurses if it wins next month’s state election.

Nurse-to-patient ratios, a minimum standard for staffing levels, are currently negotiated every four years as part of the EBA process.

But Labor leader Daniel Andrews has promised to introduce legislation that enshrines the ratios in law.

“Ratios are not up for negotiation. They should be beyond doubt,” Mr Andrews said.

He said the ratios were a vital part of a safe, effective health system.

“They save lives, they guarantee high quality care and they’re too important to be put at risk.”

According to Mr Andrews the move would be an Australian first.

Lisa Fitzpatrick from the Australian Nurses Federation said nurse-to-patient ratios were vital.

Ms Fitzpatrick said having the ratio enshrined in legislation would mean governments could not seek to force nurses to bargain away other conditions to maintain staffing levels.

Labor also pledged to spend $20 million to upgrade security at hospitals to tackle a surge in violent attacks on nurses and doctors.

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