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November 2008

United we stand

Australia's general practice peak bodies have banded together to boost their lobbying power and provide a consensus opinion on important matters affecting general practice. The national group, called United General Practice Australia, is an amalgamation of leaders from the AMA, RACPG, Divisions (Australian General Practice Network), Rural Doctors Association, General Practice Registrars Association, and Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine. Highest on their agenda is a call for an extra 100 national GP training places, international medical students, and national accreditation.

Gap gaffs downplayed

In early October, federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon promised to crack down on medicos who failed to tell patients about gap fees but the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman has found the number of complaints about gap fees for hospital treatment is small. The Ombudsman received 2,385 complaints in the 12 months to June 2008, which was 45 (1.9%) more than the previous year. Most complaints were about health insurers (2267), followed by hospitals (133) and practitioners (56). Policy holders with Medibank Private (which has 28.6% market share), made 22% of the complaints. MBF Australia (15.9% market share) policy holders made 28.4% of the complaints and HBF (7.6% market share) made 2.1% of complaints.

Cosmetic cleanup

Speaking of clampdowns, the Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery (ACCS) is taking aim at inexperienced cosmetic surgeons...

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July 2008

RACGP election hots up

The upcoming RACGP federal presidential election race is hotting up. NSW rural GP (and current Vice President) Dr Christopher Mitchell has already put his hand up for the top job, and now incumbent President, WA's Dr Vasantha Preetham, has thrown her hat in the ring. Vasantha is only the second President to seek a second consecutive term, although her job is cut out for her as Dr Mitchell has some factional heavy hitters behind him. Prof Peter Mudge (Chair, Tasmanian RACGP faculty), Dr Di O'Halloran (Chair, NSW & ACT faculty), Dr Jane Smith (Chair, Queensland faculty), and past RACGP president Dr Peter Joseph all support Dr Mitchell's candidacy, as does local GP Dr Olga Ward. While the RACGP has expanded its membership and been running smoothly under Vasantha's presidency, time will tell whether stability is enough to sway members. Postal ballots are open until July 16. Further info (including candidate statements) can be found at www.racgp.org.au 

Contaminated heparin recall

Batches of Sanofi-Aventis' heparin products Lovenox and Clexane (enoxaparin) have been found to contain small amounts of the contaminant over-sulphated chondroitin sulphate. In January, the USA reported 44 deaths and additional affected cases associated with exposure to unfractionated intravenous heparin produced by Baxter. More recently, the media has linked the drugs to 81 US deaths. While the risk of adverse events associated with the contaminated drugs is unknown, less than 5% of Australian Clexane is believed to be contaminated. Not surprisingly, all batches (made in late April) containing the contaminant have been recalled.

WA's air ambulance

A new jet ambulance service was launched in June by Health Minister Jim McGinty...

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June 2008

Cloning battle lost

Health Minister Jim McGinty says the defeat of WA's cloning bill, which would have opened up new fields of medical research in this state, is an embarrassing "slap in the face to Western Australia's scientific community." The cloning bill would have brought WA into line with other states by allowing excess embryos created through fertilisation to be used for medical research. However, conservatives from both political parties defeated the bill by 18 votes to 15 in the upper house. With the bill defeated, the short to medium term future of embryo research in WA is bleak, although with an imminent election, the bill could potentially be resurrected within 12 months.

Gray case over... almost

We've lost count of the number of rounds the three-way battle between Dr Bruce Gray, UWA, and Sirtex has lasted, but the resilient Bruce has struck a TKO on the university that originally sponsored his commercially successful research by winning a protracted court case. The fight has centred on Dr Gray's development of microspheres to fight liver cancer, which has been commercialised into multi-million dollar medical technology. The technology was developed while he worked at UWA. The win creates a dangerous precedent in that other researchers could commercialise their university-sponsored discoveries unless they have a contract stating otherwise. UWA has confirmed it will be appealing the decision, so another costly and complicated round of legal manoeuvring is on the cards.

Advance hits trouble

Just a month after offloading Cottman Australia for a tidy $8m, Advance Healthcare Group (AHG) has asked its major creditor, Fulcrum Equity, to place AHG and its subsidiaries into administration ...

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May 2008

IPN expands

Corporate GP buyouts seem to be all the rage right now. Hot on the heels of the Primary/Symbion merger, Independent Practitioner Network (IPN) has acquired Fremantle-based GP group Gemini in a $32m deal. The acquisition is a very savvy move by IPN. Gemini has 42 medical centres nationally and 90 doctors compared to IPN's 95 centres and 700 doctors. IPN has 22 GP practices in suburban Perth, whereas Gemini has 24 practices in primarily rural areas, which will avoid the practice mergers Primary and Symbion will struggle with. The expanded IPN won't match the national might of the combined Primary/Symbion entity, but they are now the dominant corporate player in general practice in WA. Gemini's Suzy Taylor will fill IPN's vacant state manager position.

RPH not burning bridges

The ‘will they, won't they' fate of Royal Perth Hospital has taken a new turn with Minister McGinty announcing his intention to retain a 190 bed surgical facility in RPH's north block after the new Fiona Stanley Hospital opens in 2013. Bucking the trend of the a slow, systematic shutdown of RPH facilities, the government has built a new purpose-built burns unit. Potentially, the new $2.5m, 10-bed facility only has a five year lifespan, but it is still welcome news for burns specialists such as Prof Fiona Wood. According to Fiona, the centre will accommodate 250 patients each year and support an outpatient service that cares for 3,500 patients annually.

Boffins wiped out

You've probably heard about the confidential patient files left on computers ...

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