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Health Bulletin 13 December 2019

In this edition: Endometriosis research, My Health Record findings, AI and Twitter used for early detection of disease outbreaks, mesh-injured women win class action, Centre of Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention Phase Two launched, Paramedic body camera trials in NSW and Health Legislation Amendment.

The latest insights from our Health Law team:

Endometriosis research focused on prevention and ultimately finding a cure 

Australian National Audit Office releases findings on implementation of My Health Record 

New tool harnesses AI and Twitter for early detection of disease outbreaks

Mesh-injured women win class action case

Centre of Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention Phase Two officially launched

Paramedic safety prompts body camera trial in NSW

Health Legislation Amendment (Data matching and Other Matters) Bill 2019

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Endometriosis research focused on prevention and ultimately finding a cure

More than one year on from the first ever National Action Plan for Endometriosis, the Morrison Government is continuing to support women and girls with endometriosis. Since the release of the Action Plan in July 2018, the Government has committed $13.7 million to support its early implementation.

This funding has been spent on endometriosis research, raising awareness, training and educating medical professionals. With $9 million of the funding targeted at endometriosis research focusing on a prevention and cure. Specifically with the aim to understand the true burden that endometriosis places on the community, what causes the condition and the differing ways in which the condition can present in affected persons.

A further $500,000 has been directed towards supporting activities that raise awareness of the condition among affected women and the broader community.

Additionally, $600,000 is being provided to support work to train and educate medical professionals in order for them to able to diagnose endometriosis and treat and manage the condition appropriately.

This funding is important due to the affect endometriosis has on the community. Endometriosis affects at least one in ten girls and women, and its symptoms include severe chronic pain and, in some cases, infertility. The Morrison Government will continue to work collaboratively with the endometriosis sector to advance the Action Plan and strive for improved health outcomes for Australian women affected by endometriosis.


Australian National Audit Office releases findings on implementation of My Health Record

On 25 November 2019, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) released its report into the Implementation of the My Health Record System (Report). The purpose of the audit was to review the effectiveness of My Health Record under the opt-out model, in particular whether:

  1. implementation of the My Health Record system promotes achievement of its purposes;
  2. My Health Record system risks are appropriately assessed, managed and monitored; and
  3. monitoring and evaluation arrangements for the My Health Record system are effective.

Overall, the Report found that implementation was largely effective. The key area identified for improvement was in relation to shared cyber security risks, with a recommendation that these be improved for risks that are shared with third party software providers and healthcare provider organisations.

The Australian Digital Health Agency (Agency), the body responsible for the My Health Record system, has welcomed ANAO’s Report. The Agency has indicated that it will continue to work with all levels of government, healthcare providers and professionals and technology industry and consumer groups to implement the recommendations.

Access the Report here and read the Agency’s media release here.


New tool harnesses AI and Twitter for early detection of disease outbreaks

The CSIRO and Kirby Institute in Sydney have developed a new tool which analyses the words in social media posts to combat acute disease events.

Researchers have created a tool which harnesses publically available data from Twitter and critically analyses it from two artificial intelligence perspectives: natural language processing and statistical time series modelling. This means that the tool processes the words used during a particular time to determine whether an acute disease event is occurring.

An example of its usefulness arose during the outbreak of thunderstorm asthma in November 2016. Dr Aditya Joshi, Postdoctoral Fellow at CSIRO’s Data61 states that use of the tool helped to “detect the disease outbreak up to nine hours before it was officially reported”. It is reported that the tool would also be useful to detect outbreaks of influenza, Ebola and the Zika virus.

The full research report is available here.


Mesh-injured women win class action case

1,350 Australian women who were implanted with transvaginal mesh devices have won a class action against manufacture Johnson & Johnson and related companies.

The devices, which contained mesh or tape products, were implanted to treat conditions such as pelvic prolapse or stress urinary incontinence following childbirth complications. However, the mesh left women with severe physical and mental health problems, including chronic inflammatory reaction and leg weakness.

Justice Anna Katzmann found that the both the manufacturer and supplier of the devices had engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct and negligence. Justice Katzmann found that the company knew there was a risk that the devices could cause significant and serious harm, but failed to provide adequate warnings about the potential complications.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration also received criticism for failing to undertake its own investigation into the devices; instead relying on approval by the European Union as the basis for approval in Australia.

Ethicon, a related company of Johnson & Johnson, released a statement empathising with the women who have experienced complications with the device. However, the company stated that it had “…acted ethically and responsibly in the research, development and supply” of the product. Ethicon is currently considering appealing the decision.

Damages will be awarded in the New Year.

You can read more about the judgment here.


Centre of Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention Phase Two officially launched

On 20 November 2019, the Federal Government launched phase two of the Centre of Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention (CRESP), a program led by the Black Dog Institute in collaboration with researches from six universities.

According to Chief Investigator, Professor Helen Christensen, CRESP Phase One illuminated that no one approach in isolation would successfully address the problem of suicide. 

Accordingly, CRESP Phase Two is a multi-level approach that will investigate the delivery of evidence-based interventions in six different contexts – schools, workplaces, online, health care, means restriction and crisis and aftercare.

CRESP Phase Two will focus on early detection of the risk of suicide to Australians. It will use smartphones and sensor technology to predict and respond to risk, with a view to providing real-time data and deliver timely intervention.

It is estimated that the Federal Government will have spent approximately $5.3 billion this year on mental health, of which $503.1 million is dedicated to a national strategy “to prevent suicide and build mental wellbeing”.

To read the media release, click here.


Paramedic safety prompts body camera trial in NSW

As part of the New South Wales Government’s $48 million reform package to improve the safety of frontline health staff, paramedics will be fitted with high-tech body cameras from 21 November 2019.

New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard stated that paramedics from Liverpool, Sydney Ambulance Centre at Eveleigh, and Hamilton in suburban Newcastle will be part of a 12-month voluntary trial.

The body cameras pilot follows additional New South Wales Government reforms introduced over the past 12 months to improve paramedic workplace safety including:

  • upgrade of mobile data terminals to pinpoint the location of paramedics;
  • new in-vehicle radios to ensure enhanced reception;
  • enhanced duress procedures and reporting;
  • $3.3 million for face-to-face occupational violence training; and
  • $4 million for high-tech smartphones to overcome radio blackspots.

The New South Wales Government is investing more than $1 billion in Ambulance in 2019-20, including $27 million to employ 221 extra paramedics and call centre staff. These staff are the second tranche of a record workforce boost of 750 to be deployed over four years.


Health Legislation Amendment (Data matching and Other Matters) Bill 2019

The Health Legislation Amendment (Data-matching and Other Matters) Bill 2019 (the Bill) amends the National Health Act 1953 (Vic), the Health Insurance Act 1973 (Vic) and related legislation to better equip government agencies on compliance issues and reduce instances of Medicare fraud. Of concern, is that if just one half of a percent (0.5%) of Medicare payments are fraudulently, incorrectly or inappropriately billed, approximately $180 million of healthcare benefits are lost each year.

The rationale behind the Bill is to allow government agencies to compare data to ensure that taxpayer funded healthcare programs are legitimately claimed and instances of non-compliance are identified. Specifically, the Bill will enable data to be matched between Medicare and agencies including the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Department of Home Affairs.

The legislation will not allow the government or any agency to share information with private health insurers. To address concerns regarding privacy, data protection and to ensure appropriate regulatory oversight, data matching will be overseen by the Australian Information Commissioner. Further, the Minister for Health and the chief executive of Medicare are required to implement governance arrangements to handle information for data matching in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988 (Vic).

The Bill has passed both Houses and is currently before the Governor-General for assent. You can read the Bill in full here.



Learn more about Russell Kennedy's expertise in the Health sector here.

If you'd like to stay up to date with Russell Kennedy's insights, please sign up here.

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