The Health News – 28 March 2014

Overview

  • The complete rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme is projected to cause a spike in demand for disability-equipped housing.
  • Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg has ruled out extending the deadline for senior doctors to sign controversial new contracts.
  • Cancer doctors are worried Australian patients will miss out on access to what has been called the biggest breakthrough in pancreatic cancer in two decades. Abraxane is one of the only treatments shown to help patients with advanced pancreatic cancer.

Health News on HPR.

Huge shortfall predicted in disability housing as NDIS is introduced – By Narda Gilmore
The complete rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme is projected to cause a spike in demand for disability-equipped housing. Disability service providers fear the estimated shortfall of 120,000 suitable dwellings will impact significantly on an already overstretched market. A disabled resident of North Canberra, Lisette Brown, has lived for the past 7 years on her own in a specially designed home. She said of the facilities, “It’s been great, things like the wide doors and the ramp down to the letter box. This (house) has more access for wheelchairs and it makes life a lot easier. I can go out to the mail box and I can go outside. I’m more independent here. I can do my own thing, what I like.” Ms Brown’s home is provided by an ACT community housing group, a spokesperson from which indicated that demand for these homes already exceeds the number available and that may continue to worsen. Disability groups met in the state’s capital yesterday to devise initiatives that will broaden housing choices in the wake of newly available NDIS funding. Potential avenues include bonds for housing, shared equity and the National Rental Affordability program. Executive director of the Community Housing Federation Carol Croce believes proactive planning will help safeguard against a future housing crisis, and said “With the NDIS coming online there is going to be a number of people who have perhaps been living in situations that are not ideal who are going to want to come into independent living.  We’re going to see an increase in the demand and the pressure on the existing lack of affordable housing. So part of the drive for the conference is to bring these two sectors together with their expertise so that we can start addressing those issues before they become a major problem.”

Doctors’ contracts row: Health Minister Lawrence Springborg says deadline extension not possible – no author listed
Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg has ruled out extending the deadline for senior doctors to sign controversial new contracts.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has called for extra time in a bid to negotiate and prevent mass resignations.
It says junior doctors are now getting involved in the dispute amid fears they will lose support if senior medical officers follow through on threats to resign en masse over the agreements.
AMA president Dr Steve Hambleton says doctors and the State Government need more time to settle down and negotiate.
“I think that would be an opportunity to take some of the sting out of everything,” he said.
“We’ve certainly had lots of emotion and lots of anxiety and frustration expressed.
“If there’s a delay, that might just be enough to get people to calm down and allow us to look at a clarification of what we need to do to actually get an outcome here.”
Dr Hambleton says “real progress” had been made last week.
“It has been virtually derailed and we just need to think about the impact and what’s at stake here,” he said.
“Really, just take a little bit of time, to allow for tempers to settle and issues to settle down, so we actually can look at a fix, to get things back on the right track.”
New system of paying doctors
But Health Minister Lawrence Springborg says the deadline cannot be extended.
“The reason for that is that we have to go to a new system of paying doctors in Queensland,” he said.
“The auditor-general made recommendations around that.
He says doctors who choose to quit will not need to give as much notice.
“The doctors [who] were saying they’re going to resign or not – they’re required to give three months’ notice – they need to sign their contracts by the end of April,” he said.
“They only need to give two months’ notice now – before it was three months’ notice – it’s two months notice to allow them to actually be able to consider these contracts without any pressure on them.”
Resignation ‘written and ready to go’
Ipswich anaesthetist Dr Rob Thomas says his resignation is written and ready to go.
He says he will not sign a contract that can be altered at any time and many of his colleagues feel the same.
“It’s creating a lot of unrest,” he said.
“It means that nobody trusts this Government any more because they will not budge on really key principal things.
“They are not listening to the facts that there are a lot of people who are not believing the ever-changing goal posts that they are changing.”
Union has tried to hamper negotiations, Springborg says
Mr Springborg has also accused the Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation (ASMOF) of trying to hamper negotiations by telling doctors not to roll over and urging them to keep fighting to get the best possible deal.
But ASMOF spokesman Dr Tony Sara says he acted in the best interests of Queenslanders by urging doctors to fight for better work conditions.

Dr Sara insists he did the right thing.

“When the contracts are harsh and draconian and they’re akin to the Kanaka indentured Labor contracts of prior 1906, well. wouldn’t any person in their reasonable mind, interested in the care of the people of Queensland say, ‘don’t sign, there’s no other logical or reasonable or humane thing to do’,” he said.

Doctors fear patients could miss out on lifesaving pancreatic cancer drug Abraxane – by Sophie Scott
Cancer doctors are worried Australian patients will miss out on access to what has been called the biggest breakthrough in pancreatic cancer in two decades.

Abraxane is one of the only treatments shown to help patients with advanced pancreatic cancer.

But the company distributing the drug has written to all Australian oncologists saying it will no longer be able to supply the medication.

It says the Federal Government has asked them to supply the drug at well below cost price, making it unviable.

The company says no new patients can join the scheme which gives the drug to patients on compassionate grounds.

Around six people a day apply to get the drug, which can extend a patient’s life by up to three years.

Professor John Zalcberg from Melbourne’s Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute says it is bad news for patients.

“If that turns out to be the case, that will be very disappointing because this is a disease, when it’s advanced, that has a very bad prognosis,” he said.

He says trials of Abraxane show it can reduce tumour size and stop the disease’s progression.

Professor Zalcberg chairs the Australian Gastrointestinal Trials Association, which has received research funding from the distributor of Abraxane.

The drug is fully subsidised in the United States and the United Kingdom.

One patient to benefit from Abraxane is Sydney Terrence.

He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just before his 71st birthday and says the drug is his last hope.

Without this, I would have had another couple of months of life left. This is possibly offering me one to two years.

Sydney Terrence

“I always try to keep a positive front on it. I try to think that I am beating this. I suppose I am hoping for the most but I am prepared to accept the worst,” he said.

“Without this, I would have had another couple of months of life left. This is possibly offering me one to two years.”

In the letter to oncologists, the company Specialised Therapeutics Australia says: “It is with great regret I must advise you that it is highly likely that the Abraxane Access program will close.”

“We understand only too well that this will have a tremendous impact on the ability of many patients and their families to afford (the drug),” it said.

The company says it has supplied Abraxane to more than 1,000 patients with advanced pancreatic cancer, through the special access scheme.

A statement from the Federal Health Department says Abraxane for the treatment of pancreatic cancer was considered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee at its recent meeting in March 2014.

The committee’s decision will be publicly available on April 24.

The Federal Government has the final say on whether the drug will be subsidised.

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