Petition to Keep Referrals to Social Workers and Occupational Therapists Eligible for Medicare in Australia

As a followup to my previous blog post there is now a petition (PDF) to ask the Australian Government to keep referrals to OT’s and social workers eligible for Medicare, which Donna has blogged about. If you do grab the PDF and print it out – and I would urge you to do so if you are in Australia, they need 10,000 signatures for it to be tabled – then please also have a covering note to explain why it’s so important. Donna writes:


1 in 150 people in Australia are diagnosed as having an autism spectrum disorder. 90% of adults on the autism spectrum have experienced bullying. Many are forced out of school early due to depression, anxiety disorders and breakdown. As adults those in this population will be significantly more at risk of social isolation, dislocation from their community, unemployment, and homelessness than the general population.

Around 1/3rd of adults on the autism spectrum will become diagnosed with additional mental health problems stemming at least in part from social disadvantage. When those developmental disabilities, including Aspergers develop mental health issues associated with long term unemployment, social isolation and community disconnection, Accredited Mental Health Social Workers are uniquely skilled to address their psychosocial issues and improve their quality of life in ways not addressed by Psychiatrists or psychologists alone.

With a 90% unemployment rate among even those most able adults on the autism spectrum, most are on income support. As such, if they require mental health services, most will be unable to access these services if not covered by Medicare funding. From 2011 the Government is going to cut Medicare funding for Social Workers and Occupational Therapists under “Better Access to Mental Health Services” Program. 10,000 signatures is required to try and change this by December 2010. Please add yours.

Click here to get the PDF of the petition to print and sign.

Social Workers and Occupational Therapists Disappearing off the Medicare Radar

It’s not making the news at the moment, but the proposed scrapping of the Medicare rebate for access to social workers and occupational therapists is going to cause a lot of pain to a lot of people. We have friends with Autism and Aspergers Syndrome who benefit from the support these people provide, support that helps these people get into jobs, to live independently or to understand how the world is working. As my own wife puts it:

As a person with autism, learning disabilities and mental health issues from a background of abuse and homelessness, a lot of my skills took years to acquire. I had had a lifetime of labels, Psych and Guidance, medicated by age 9, psychiatry since my teens. But it was a social worker who liased with my psychiatrist to get me – relatively illiterate, innumerate, itinerant and at risk – back into education. The psychiatrist took the credit but it was there I understood the very different jobs these people had in the area of mental health. The psychiatrist could medicate me, but the Social Worker had a more powerful medicine – practical plans and support to change, to save, a life.

When her first husband left after isolating her:

I had spent two years without practicing my self help skills. Agoraphobic, isolated, disoriented, I didn’t need a psychiatrist or medication. I needed practical hands on help in the home and the community to pattern me back into my life skills. That help came in the form of an Occupational Therapist. She helped me get back my strategies and the life skills these supported, helped me get my confidence back and helped me put supports in place for the things I needed help with. Within three months I was running my life as an independent adult, able to commute from home out into the community, even joining in community activities and looking after a cat.

Mental health often flies under the radar of journalists, but it is a significant health issue in Australia. Professor John Mendoza says:

Today, mental ill-health is the leading cause of death for all Australians under 45. More than car accidents. More than binge drinking. More than anything else. It is the leading cause of disability in Australia across all demographics. It affects more than 4 million Australians every year and is estimated to cost the Australian economy about $30 billion each year.

This decision isn’t yet set in stone, it is apparently due to be reviewed later this year but don’t wait for the election, please write and tell the current Health Minister why it is important to keep these services eligible for the Medicare rebate.

Federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon,
1 Thomas Holmes Street
Maribyrnong Vic 3032,
Phone: 9317 7077.

Thank you.

What Price Ideology ? – Mbeki, AIDS and the lost ARV treatment

Reading the New Scientist article on AIDS Deniers (which reminded me a lot of the Global Warming denial farce with its reliance on obsolete results, junk science and people who won’t let facts get in the way of a good conspiracy theory) I was very disturbed read about an assessment on the number of extra deaths in South Africa caused by the policies of its ex-president, Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki did his best to block the use of ART’s in the treatment of AIDS, despite all the evidence that they were the best treatment. The number of extra deaths due to this is simply staggering, around a third of a million lives lost due to the false ideology that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS. 🙁

The journal article referenced for those numbers is called “Estimating the Lost Benefits of Antiretroviral Drug Use in South Africa” and is published at the end of last year in Volume 49 – Issue 4 of the JAIDS Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes. The abstract for the paper puts the issue like this:

South Africa is one of the countries most severely affected by HIV/AIDS. At the peak of the epidemic, the government, going against consensus scientific opinion, argued that HIV was not the cause of AIDS and that antiretroviral (ARV) drugs were not useful for patients and declined to accept freely donated nevirapine and grants from the Global Fund.

The cost was truly devastating:

Using modeling, we compared the number of persons who received ARVs for treatment and prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission between 2000 and 2005 with an alternative of what was reasonably feasible in the country during that period. More than 330,000 lives or approximately 2.2 million person-years were lost because a feasible and timely ARV treatment program was not implemented in South Africa. Thirty-five thousand babies were born with HIV, resulting in 1.6 million person-years lost by not implementing a mother-to-child transmission prophylaxis program using nevirapine. The total lost benefits of ARVs are at least 3.8 million person-years for the period 2000-2005.

What a price to pay. 🙁

Mandatory Detetion Powers for Australian Government over H1N1 Outbreak

An interesting titbit from the ABC:

The Federal Government has enacted powers to allow for mandatory detention of people in Australia suspected of having swine flu, if the situation was to worsen.

Whilst these are scary powers I suspect it will be necessary in the case of the current outbreak becoming a lethal pandemic, given many peoples inability to to complete a course of drugs for an illness, and thus vastly increasing its risk of becoming resistant. It’s just evolution in action..

DNA evidence not always what it seems to be

Bruce Schneier has posted a link to a story about the German Police having an interesting time with DNA analysis of a series of murders due to a consistent false positive result; Bruce writes:

The German police spent years and millions of dollars tracking a mysterious killer whose DNA had been found at the scenes of six murders. Finally they realized they were tracking a worker at the factory that assembled the prepackaged swabs used for DNA testing.

I hope this gives pause for thought to those who think that programs like CSI reflect reality and that DNA profiling is always right..


Two weeks ago Donna spotted a mole on my back that had grown since she last noticed it, so off to the doctors we went that Monday for a punch biopsy, and the following Friday evening I get a call saying that they want me to come in to discuss the results and to get the rest of the “lesion” removed.


So back again on Monday for its removal and to learn that the biopsy results were inconclusive; they had seen “abnormal” cells but neither of the two pathologists who’d looked at it were able to see enough to tell for certain what was going on. The doctor did a great job taking it off with just a local anaesthetic – the most peculiar thing was to be able to hear this cutting sound and feel a vague tugging but nothing more! A hole in my back and ten stitches later the whole thing was sent off to the pathology lab again for examination and another appointment made for today (Friday) to get the results.

So today Donna and I went back – this time for good news..

Sections show a dysplastic naevus of compound pattern. Junctional activity is considerable, but pagetoid epidermal infiltration is not present and there is no evidence of malignancy. Excision is complete.

Summary – it’s not cancer. Apparently dysplastic naevus can develop into malignant melanoma so I’m very happy it’s gone, phew!

If you’re worried about a large or growing mole go and get it checked out. Before it’s too late..

Chilli anaesthetic

Some hot news in from New Scientist..

Clifford Woolf and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School have now discovered a way of blocking just the pain neurons using capsaicin – the active ingredient in chilli peppers – along with a version of lignocaine that can’t diffuse through cell membranes unassisted. [….] Woolf’s team is testing other chemicals that can activate the TRPV1 receptor, since people may not like the initial pain of a dose of chilli pepper. Tests on volunteers are expected within two years.

I can think of a couple of people who might want to volunteer for testing.. 🙂

It’s the wrong leech, Gromit!

Oops, it looks like there’s been a bit of a mix up with the humble leech in medical research!

In the slimiest and perhaps costliest case of mistaken identity in modern biology, hundreds of scientific papers and years of research could be thrown into doubt, for they may have been based on experiments carried out on the wrong leech

It’s the wrong leech Gromit, and they’ve gone wrong! (Apologies to The Wrong Trousers)

“What has been sold and used as Hirudo medicinalis is usually another species, Hirudo verbana,” said Dr Siddall, who led an international team of researchers in examining dozens of specimens procured from leech farms in Europe and the United States. “Indeed, we have never received a true medicinalis from a commercial supplier,” he said, adding a few leeches from a third species, H. orientalis, from Turkey or Azerbaijan, may also have crept into the mix.

There is an upside to this (asides from the increasing volume of medical papers as they try and correct their previous research and try and work out what compound came from which species):

“With three species rather than one, there may three times as many interesting compounds to be discovered and harnessed,” he said.