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The Zap: don’t miss this comprehensive update on the latest health and aged care news

Updates on immunisations, dementia, mental health, and anti-vaping legislation are covered in the latest edition of The Zap.

Health policy analyst Charles Maskell-Knight also examines a Productivity Commission report on healthcare productivity, as well as the benefits of being a left-handed surgeon.

Don’t miss the updated list of consultations and inquiries – please let us know of any new ones to add.

Meanwhile, the Government has still not released its response to the Provision of and Access to Dental Services in Australia inquiry – now eight weeks overdue.

The quotable?

At last, the [Productivity] Commission is focusing on value as well as cost.”


Charles Maskell-Knight writes:

Various health groups acknowledged 22 April as Earth Day.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted on X (formerly Twitter) that protecting the environment also protects animals and people. “By caring for the Earth, we are caring for all.”

In Australia, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) posted on Facebook that “it is Earth Day today, and a timely reminder of our collective responsibility to protect and preserve the Earth for future generations”.

“Climate change is a health emergency, with clear evidence of severe health impacts for people and communities.”

Assistant Minister Ged Kearney marked the day by announcing that Australia had signed a “public statement of collaboration” with the US and the UK to decarbonise healthcare supply chains.

While the health system is currently responsible for around five percent of Australia’s carbon emissions, about three-quarters of this comes from imported medicines and health technologies.

Kearney said that “reducing carbon emissions from the production and supply of healthcare goods and services is a very effective way to make healthcare greener”.


Ministers and government

Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care Ged Kearney spoke at the opening of the World Health Summit Regional Forum in Melbourne. Croakey’s rotated @WePublicHealth account on X followed the action using the hashtag #WHSMelbourne2024.

Kearney also attended a media conference on vaping at the Regional Forum together with World Health Organization Regional Director Dr Saia Ma’u Piukala and VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio.

VicHealth launched the UNCLOUD – Warn Others campaign, featuring warnings from young people to their peers of the dangers of vaping and vaping addiction.

Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler announced that pharmacists would be funded to provide free flu and other National Immunisation Program (NIP) vaccines in aged care and disability homes from 29 April.

The move was welcomed by the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia and the Pharmacy Guild.

Butler also announced that a joint operation between the Therapeutic Goods Administration and Victoria Police had “identified and detained nearly 500,000 vapes suspected of being unlawful”.

The use of telehealth services in Australia has grown from almost nothing pre-COVID to the point where 25 percent of people received a telehealth service last year.

Butler announced six grants to different groups to “to develop a solid evidence-base that can inform future health policy on telehealth”.

In non-announcement news, the Government has still not released its response to the Senate dental inquiry, which is now eight weeks overdue.

Two weeks ago (on 10 April) the Department of Health and Aged Care told Croakey:

the Government is finalising its response to the Senate Select Committee into the Provision of and Access to Dental Services in Australia. This is due to be tabled shortly”.

According to the Senate’s resolution of 14 March 1973, the response was actually due to be tabled on 29 February! Anyway, watch this space – but don’t hold your breath.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly used World Vaccination Week (24-30 April) to remind everyone to book their annual flu vaccination.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released the results of the Dementia Awareness Survey commissioned by the Department of Health and Aged Care.

The survey found that people with higher incomes, better education, or exposure to the disease knew more about it and that increased knowledge led to reduced stigmatisation of people living with dementia.

Just as we all speak prose without knowing it, almost all (99.6%) Australians engage in one or more behaviours that reduces their risk of the dementia – including being physically, cognitively, and socially active, controlling high blood pressure, and eating a Mediterranean diet – without realising the protective effect these have.

The Therapeutics Goods Administration opened a consultation on proposed amendments to the Poisons Schedule. While these amendments are often technical in nature and attract little public attention, this round includes a proposal to down-schedule sildenafil (aka Viagra) from Schedule 4 prescription-only to Schedule 3, so it can be provided by pharmacists.

The Productivity Commission released a report on research showing that “Australia’s healthcare system delivers some of the best value for money of any in the world”.

Commissioner Catherine de Fontenay said that for the first time, quality had been considered in the assessment of productivity.

“Previous research assessed the productivity of our healthcare system by looking at how much it costs to provide a service, such as a visit to hospital. This research looks at how much it costs us to treat a particular disease and the outcomes of treatment.

“Looking at the outcomes our system creates for patients provides a much truer picture of its productivity. A healthcare system that gets people in and out of hospital quickly and cheaply isn’t much good if those patients aren’t getting better.”

At last, the Commission is focusing on value as well as cost.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest data on people in Australian prisons. In 2022-23 the total number of people in prison increased by three percent, but the imprisonment rate increased by one percent. Almost 40 percent of people in prison have not yet been sentenced.

The number of First Nations people in prison increased by seven percent, while the imprisonment rate increased by a staggering five percent. As a result, 2.4 percent of the First Nations adult population are now incarcerated, accounting for a third of the prison population.

And still the major political parties at a state level engage in “tough on crime” bidding wars, promising to lock more people up for longer (see for example here, here and here).

The ABS also released the March quarter Consumer Price Index, with an overall increase of 1.0 percent over the quarter, and an annual 3.6 percent. The health component increased 2.8 percent over the quarter, and an annual 4.1 percent.

Of course, this does not yet reflect the completely unnecessary rise of three percent in private health insurance premiums which took effect on 1 April.


First Nations health

The National Indigenous Times reported that a group of First Nations mental health groups had issued a joint call for urgent investment by governments in “social and emotional wellbeing and mental health supports for Indigenous children in state care”.

The group said that “in the 16 years since Kevin Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen Generations, removals of Indigenous children have tripled, with First Nations children now representing more than 40 percent o