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Heather Wiseman has generated media coverage for Sydney North Shore and Beaches Medicare Local (SNSBML), Albury City Council and Royal Blind Society.

14 May 2014
SNSBML remains strong player in strengthening primary healthcare, post budget
The 2014-15 Federal Budget has confirmed that Sydney North Shore and Beaches Medicare Local (SNSBML) will continue business as usual for another 12 months, ensuring it will be well positioned to tender to become a Primary Health Network in the following year.

SNSBML CEO, Kris Hume, says in just two years of operation, SNSBML has achieved extensive knowledge of local health issues and established relationships with local health and community organisations which were essential to addressing those local health needs.

“Our achievements and relationships will put us in good stead to ensure this important work is continued, albeit under a different structure that includes a new local GP-based Clinical Council and Consumer Advisory Committee,” she says.

“We are pleased to see that the Federal Government has kept a focus on local-level structures to identify and respond to local health care priorities.

“We are also pleased it does not appear to have adopted recent recommendations that suggested one primary health care organisation, covering all of metropolitan Sydney, could adequately address health issues at the local level. One of our key strengths is our proven capacity to identify local health needs and work with local organisations to address them.”

While the number of Primary Health Networks is yet to be announced, budget documents indicate they will be established through a competitive tender process and “be aligned to Local Hospital Networks”. The Primary Health Networks will “improve frontline service delivery by working to integrate the primary, community and secondary sectors for the benefit of patients.

Ms Hume says SNSBML has already made inroads in integrating health care to improve health outcomes and reduce costs.

“We can see advantages in a Primary Health Network’s boundaries being aligned to those of Northern Sydney Local Health District and are keen to explore economies of scale which may lead to the local Primary Health Network achieving greater organisational efficiencies,” says Ms Hume.

“An organisation of this larger scale may be better positioned to address the significant strain on the local acute sector which will occur over the next decade, due to significant population growth and increase in the number of people aged 70 or older.

“Over the next 12 months, we will continue to build a strong, integrated, primary health care system, with general practice at the centre. We expect our achievements — in terms of improving access and choice for patients, improving health outcomes, reducing costly hospital admissions and saving our health system money — will put us in good stead to meet the Federal Government’s future objectives.”

2 May 2014
$15 co-payment not in local patients’ best interest
Sydney North Shore and Beaches Medicare Local warns that the Commission of Audit’s proposed $15 co-payment for GP services may disadvantage low-income earners across the North Shore and Beaches and exacerbate pressure in Northern Beaches suburbs experiencing a GP shortage that is set to intensify.

SNSBML chair Dr Harry Nespolon says Northern Beaches GPs are already struggling to meet local patients’ needs; a pressure that will build with the ageing workforce approaching retirement. Trying to collect the co-payment from patients who could not pay it was not a constructive addition to their practices’ workload.

Despite perceptions of local affluence, SNSBML research highlights pockets of financial vulnerability across the region, with the $15 co-payment potentially disadvantaging:

*  elderly single women and people who are homeless in North Sydney and Mosman.

*  the relatively high number of socioeconomically disadvantaged people in Warringah

*  low income earners, families and young people in Willoughby

Dr Nespolon says the co-payment may also significantly increase health expenditure over the long term, increasing the community’s health burden and the need for expensive hospital care.

People with chronic disease need to visit the doctor frequently, but may also, as a result of their health conditions, have limited financial resources.

“A $15 co-payment may discourage patients with complex needs from seeing their GP, which could lead to them needing more costly hospital care,” says Dr Nespolon.

“Internationally, research shows improved access to quality primary health care leads to better health outcomes. Treating health problems effectively in the community can save millions of dollars by reducing the number of people who become so unwell they require hospital care,” Dr Nespolon says.

While the cost of a hospital stay varies, according to the complexity of a patient’s condition, Federal Government statistics show that on average, it is $5000 per patient.

“The Audit Commission’s recommendation could also result in more patients turning up to hospital emergency departments to avoid paying the co-payment, should NSW Government retain the current ‘no Emergency Department fee’ position,” Dr Nespolon says.

Dr Nespolon says the health system could be made more cost effective without compromising patient care.

“Effective treatment in the community often requires a team, headed by a GP who works with allied health professionals such as nurses, dieticians, physiotherapists, psychologists and many others. Medicare Locals work with primary health care professionals, and practitioners in hospitals and aged care, to help them link, co-ordinate and work more efficiently.”

27 Mar 2014
New statistics highlight Manly’s low childhood vaccination rates
Sydney North Shore and Beaches Medicare Local has used new vaccination statistics to provide a rare insight into the specific number of children living in Manly, Pittwater and Warringah local government areas who are not fully vaccinated.

Today’s report from the National Health Performance Authority highlights that the suburb of Manly has disturbingly low rates of childhood immunisation, particularly for five-year-old children, with only 80.4% fully immunised. For some illnesses, such as measles, 95% is the recommended immunisation rate. Given that a coverage rate of 90% is required to achieve herd immunity, unvaccinated people enable diseases to spread more freely among others in the community.

SNSBML analysis of the statistics shows that while there are 27 unvaccinated five-year-olds in the suburb of Manly, there are 73 in the Manly LGA, 237 in Warringah and 88 in Pittwater, according to Sydney North Shore and Beaches Medicare Local Chair, Dr Harry Nespolon. “While headlines from this report have focussed on Manly, it is important for local people to realise that there are 398 five-year-olds in Pittwater, Warringah and Manly local government areas who haven’t been vaccinated, so it’s not a problem in Manly alone.”

The report also revealed that the suburb of Manly has one of the lowest national immunisation rates for two-year-olds, of whom 86.6% are fully immunised, which Dr Nespolon says represents a significant health risk. “There has been a 6.4% increase in vaccination rates for two-year-olds in the suburb of Manly since 2011-2012, which is promising,” Dr Nespolon says.

“Rates are heading in the right direction, but there are still too many local children not being protected from potentially life-threatening diseases. “Across Manly, Warringah and Pittwater local government areas, there are 345 two-year-olds who are not fully vaccinated.

“The only safe way to protect children from all infectious diseases is to vaccinate them on time. “I encourage parents to visit the NSW Health website and see the ‘Save the Date to Vaccinate’ campaign, which will explain what vaccinations are due and when.”

SNSBML is working closely with local practices to try and increase the number of children who receive vaccinations on time. SNSBML is providing practices with birthday-card-reminders, which can be sent to children turning one and four – key ages when vaccinations are due. Dr Nespolon says the region’s low rates of immunisations cannot be explained simply by conscientious objection.

“Research has shown that there has been an increase in parental concern surrounding vaccination, but in many cases this is based on information that is not evidence-based. I strongly encourage parents with any concerns to discuss them with their GP or practice nurse.”

Dr Nespolon says not immunising a child has potential to impact significantly on other people in the community, particularly newborns, who cannot be immunised before six weeks for whooping cough, which is potentially life threatening. He says cases of measles have been reported in most states and territories this summer. Measles is very infectious and can cause very severe illness resulting in hospitalisations, long-term complications and sometimes death.

SNSBML is assisting local general practices to ensure their recall and reminder systems are working effectively. They are also assisting with systems to ensure that the correct vaccination information is sent to the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register, where Centrelink obtains information on immunisation status. Parents can obtain a copy of their child’s vaccination history from the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register or their child’s eHealth Record. Visit ehealth.gov.au for more information.

6 March
The perfect time for a flu vaccination is now
It is a myth that you can get the flu from having a flu vaccination, according to a local health organisation which is reminding residents in Warringah, Pittwater and Manly LGAs that March is the perfect month to be vaccinated.

Sydney North Shore and Beaches Medicare Local (SNSBML) says it easy to underestimate the serious complications that can be caused by the highly contagious influenza disease, which causes more deaths each year than road accidents.

SNSBML Chair, Dr Harry Nespolon, says people older than 65 are at high risk of complications from influenza, which include bronchitis, pneumonia and cardiovascular problems.

“We understand there are about 21,700 residents who are 65 or older in Warringah, 9,700 in Pittwater and a further 5,360 in Manly. These people are entitled to a free flu vaccination, so I encourage them to discuss this with their GP soon,” he says.

Dr Nespolon says pregnant women are also at high risk of complications from influenza. However, anyone can catch the highly contagious disease, even if they are fit and healthy.

“It is important to rely on evidence-based health information when deciding whether or not to have a flu shot. I’ve had patients who have been concerned that they might catch the flu from the influenza virus.  I assure you, the vaccine does not contain any live viruses and so it is not possible for it to cause the flu,” Dr Nespolon says.

Dr Nespolon says the influenza vaccine is safe for pregnant women and that it will protect their new-born baby for six months.

“Children and adults who are allergic to eggs, even to the extent of having anaphylactic reactions, can also be safely vaccinated,” Dr Nespolon says.

“Autumn is the perfect time to book an appointment with your GP to have the vaccination. It is an easy way to avoid the fever, cough, aches and pains, fatigue, headaches and sore throat that can leave even fit and healthy people bedridden for several days.” Dr Nespolon says the flu vaccine is free for people aged 65 and older, all pregnant women, people aged six-months and older with medical conditions that can lead to severe influenza, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 or older.

March 15 is the official starting date for the National Influenza Vaccination Program.

18 December 2013
Bridgepoint Pharmacy first to connect to eHealth
Mosman’s Bridgepoint Pharmacy became the first pharmacy in the Sydney North Shore and Beaches area to be fully connected to eHealth last week, enabling it to provide higher quality patient care, particularly during the peak holiday season when many patients are travelling.

The eHealth system will enable pharmacists, with patient consent, to access view patient’s medication history, information on allergies and Shared Health Summary, using eRX and Medisecure software.

Sydney North Shore and Beaches CEO, Kris Hume, congratulated Bridgepoint on being the first local pharmacy to achieve access to patients’ electronic health records, saying that it would have a positive impact on patient safety.

“Having access to a patient’s medical information is particularly useful during the holiday peak season when many people are travelling and visiting different pharmacies while they are away. It equips pharmacists with the information they need to better help people with allergies, a complex range of medications, or those who are confused about multiple repeat scripts.”

Kris says the eHealth Record also forms an important base for Home Medication Review or Medscheck and may facilitate better communication between patients and GPs.

More than 1.2 million people have registered for a Patient Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR) and this number is growing each day.

On 3 November, the Minister for Health, Peter Dutton, announced a review of the PCEHR. A review panel will report to the Minister by Christmas. In the meantime, patients are encouraged to register for an eHealth record, to ensure healthcare providers can access their medical information.

“The more people who register and the more healthcare organisations that join the eHealth record system, the better connected Australia’s health system will become,” Kris says.

11 December 2013
Ten local GPs present new health program for local students
Tomorrow, 10 well-known local GPs start delivering an innovative new health education program for Year 9 and 10 students living on Sydney’s North Shore and Beaches.

The program was devised by Sydney North Shore and Beaches Medicare Local (SNSBML), a member based not-for-profit organisation that helps people understand their local health services, options and how to access them.

The GPs will deliver the first uConnectHealth program to about 140 students at The Forest High School on Thursday 12 December. The interactive, non-judgemental program aims to build students’ knowledge, skills and confidence, so they are better equipped to access local health services in times of need and negotiate the health system.

SNSBML CEO Kris Hume says the organisation trains local GPs and nurses to facilitate the workshops, which it will offer to all high schools across the region in the next 12 months, with bookings already underway.

“The program addresses risk taking behaviours and health issues that are common among young people,” Ms Hume says.

“It covers topics such as sex, alcohol, relationships, body image, depression and drugs. It provides students with a USB wrist band loaded with health information and phone numbers for local health and welfare organisations.  It also includes a relaxation audio, to help students manage stress and anxiety.”

“Emergency department data from three public hospitals within our region shows that self-harm and suicide attempts, mental health and substance use are the top three issues resulting in young people presenting to emergency departments. Our aim is for uConnectHealth to better equip young people to access the right help at the right time, before their issues escalate to a crisis.”

Jennifer Power, Head Teacher – Personal Development and Physical Education at The Forest High School says the uConnectHealth program is “very valuable”.

“For many students, it will be their first opportunity to ask a GP questions about health issues that are concerning them,” Ms Power says.

“They will be able to get accurate health information and know that GPs are approachable and able to help them in many different circumstances.”

27 November 2013
Schoolies don’t be fooled – kronik paranoia can kill
Northern Beaches students celebrating Schoolies Week are being warned to avoid potentially lethal illicit drugs that look like herbal tea and are promoted as giving a legal high. Two concerned local health organisations are teaming together to raise awareness of synthetic cannabinoids, which cost about $30 a bag and are typically mixed with tobacco or marijuana and smoked.

South Pacific Private Hospital, in Curl Curl, specialises in treating patients with an addiction or a mood disorder. It is working to raise awareness of synthetic cannabinoid use with Sydney North Shore and Beaches Medicare Local (SNSBML), which has run a successful pilot program to improve senior high school students’ health literacy and encourage them to make informed choices.

Professor John Saunders, a consultant physician at South Pacific Private Hospital who specialises in addictive disorders, says he has seen hundreds of patients over the past four years who have used synthetic cannabinoids, also known as synthetic marijuana. He says there are more than 100 synthetic cannabinoids on the market, which are known by dozens of names including kronik, K2, Bombay Blue and Beyond Death. While the drugs are sometimes promoted as being legal and giving a “herbal high”, synthetic cannabinoids were made illegal in NSW in July 2013.

Synthetic cannabinoids contain chemical compounds that are sprayed onto cannabis, or green herbs that look like cannabis, and sometimes mixed with amphetamines. Those smoking them can experience disturbing psychotic experiences and exhibit bizarre behaviours.

“Some patients have presented with paranoid thoughts, such as people looking or spying on them, or inanimate objects, such as buildings, speaking to them,” Professor Saunders says.

“The synthetic cannabinoids are potentially lethal, in that people may try to run away from perceived threats or become violent in an effort to defend themselves.”

SNSBML is working to improve senior students’ understanding of health issues and encourage them to make informed choices. Its new uConnectHealth program, presented by local GPs, includes entertaining, non-judgemental workshops which explain how to access local health services. The program targets Year 9 and Year 10 students and addresses risk taking behaviours and health issues identified by SNSBML’s regional health needs assessment. It covers topics such as sex, alcohol, drugs and provides students with a USB wrist band loaded with health information and phone numbers for local health and welfare organisations. uConnect Health will rolled out across the North Shore and Beaches region early next year.

SNSBML is a member based not-for-profit organisation that helps people understand their local health services, options and how to access them.

22 November 2013
Warringah men encouraged to consider a tune-up
Men heading to Bunnings in Warringah next week might have their focus shifted from DIY projects to whether their health needs a tune-up.

On Saturday 30 November men of all ages will have the opportunity to complete a free health questionnaire, which will indicate whether it’s time they talked to their GP. They will also learn through a synthetic model what the first signs of testicular cancer feel like, see healthy food portions and standard drink sizes, and be given the opportunity to look after their mates by applying for workplace health assessments.

The stand is the first of many pop-up health promotions to be run by Sydney North Shore and Beaches Medicare Local (SNSBML), which is working to prevent the onset of health issues for men in Warringah.

SNSBML Population Health and Prevention Manager, David Grant-McGuinness, says the organisation’s regional population health needs assessment highlighted that Warringah has the region’s highest lifestyle risk factors.

“Those risk factors include obesity, risky alcohol consumption, smoking and physical inactivity,” David says.

“Warringah also had the region’s highest rates of chronic disease, avoidable mortality, alcohol and smoking related hospitalisation and smoking death rate.”

David says one third of Aussie men have not visited their GP in the past year.

“That’s another good reason to give our local men a nudge and encourage them to take more control of their health by visiting their GP,” he says.

“Men have traditionally left taking action on their healthcare too late. Our aim is to encourage men to take charge of their health, because a lot of these preventable diseases can be controlled with early detection. Men are also reluctant patients, so we are keen to encourage tuning-up and turn up to their local GP to be on top of their health game”.

SNSBML is a member based not-for-profit organisation that helps people understand their local health services, options and how to access them. It was established in July 2012, building upon the work of the Manly Warringah Division of General Practice and the Northern Sydney General Practice Network.



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