WA biotech emerging?

WA biotech company Resonance Health (ASX: RHT) has finally moved into the black with its image analysis technology, primarily in the form of FerriScan® quantitative MRI image analysis, developed to assess the degree of liver iron overload in haemochromatosis. Since 2005-06 (when the company underwent a share consolidation and major belt tightening), revenues from FerriScan have increased from $0.3m to $2.3m and during 2008-09 the company reported its first profit of $617k. The company is looking to apply its technology to the diagnosis of liver fibrosis (as an alternative to liver biopsy) in a broader range of liver diseases and to a much wider market, all by 2012. The inability of the test to make it onto the MBS Schedule has been a major revenue block but regulatory approval by the FDA and other European agencies has seen these markets begin to open. Lisa Dunne, Managing Director since 2003, has been a driving force along with Perth Radiological Clinic’s Dr Martin Blake, UWA scientist Prof Timothy St Pierre, board chairman and biotech investor Dr Stewart Washer and major shareholder Mr Simon Panton.

Vulva awareness

Health professionals are increasingly asked to dovetail in with ‘illness/health days’ or ‘health awareness weeks’, dreamt up by clever marketing people who flog red noses, moustaches, pink ribbons, etc to create awareness and raise funds for health research and patient support. This coming March 28, women are being invited to do as the marketing logo depicts and bend over and look at their crotch for Vulva Awareness Day. Really?! Where will it end? Can we expect TV vulva panel discussions, sponsor a vulva, Best and Fairest Vulva awards and suchlike as fund raising initiatives?

Support for breastfeeding workers

WA Health, under its new breastfeeding policy, will support breastfeeding employees with lactation breaks and breastfeeding facilities in the workplace (wherever practicable). The employee signs an agreement outlining where and when the 2 or 3 feeding breaks will be taken (up to 1 hour total allowed per 7.5 hr shift, including travel time). Toilets are not suitable places to express or feed – a powerpoint, clean and private storage, comfortable seating and access to a washbasin and fridge are required. Carers can bring the baby in for feeds. WA Health says it is committed to assisting employees balance work and family responsibilities, especially during return to work after parental leave. Anti-discrimination laws mean employers have an obligation to take all reasonable measures to accommodate employees who are breastfeeding. The Federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a woman on the basis that she is breastfeeding. Employees who are breastfeeding must not be subjected to any criticism, harassment or discrimination for breastfeeding at work. Managers are to fully consider ways to accommodate requests and where reasonably practicable, implement appropriate arrangements.

Money speaks

Royalties for Regions will pay $32.96m under the Pilbara Revitalisation Plan for a CT Scanner at Karratha (Nickol Bay Hospital) while all the big mining companies in that region will contribute $5.28m. Regional Development Minister Brendon Grylls has launched the high calibre CT scanner which is only doing up to 12 scans per day, 4 of which were previously being referred from Karratha to Port Hedland. The associated upgrade to the hospital’s medical imaging department will assist trauma patients and a few cancer patients. The State Government has also provided $10m for urgent upgrades to health services and staff accommodation at Nickol Bay Hospital.

No cramp fix

The NPS has suggested doctors are continuing to prescribe quinine tablets for cramps, even though the TGA withdrew the drug for this purpose in 2004 because it had received 228 reports of thrombocytopenia involving quinine, with six deaths, and it doesn’t work for cramps. NPS suggests a sizeable proportion of the 154,511 scripts in 2008-09 for malaria prophylaxis are being diverted for leg cramps. In fact, PBS/RPS scripts went up in the last two years when streamlining of the authority item was introduced.

Wheatbelt no-brainer

WA Country Health Service Wheatbelt Mental Health Service and the Holyoake Wheatbelt Community Drug Service team have joined forces. A Memorandum of Understanding between the government and non-government organizations makes sense – 80% of patients accessing either mental health or drug and alcohol services have a dual diagnosis. Their “virtual co-location” means confidentiality and information sharing is taken care of for more effective case management.

Help the aged

As WA’s population ages Health Minister Kim Hames has pumped an additional $13.6m into Home and Community Care (HACC) services used by more than 64,000 people each year in WA. $8.3m of this came from federal coffers. This financial support for 158 new or extended HACC projects included $228,000 to Melville Cares, $300,000 to Hills Community Support Group, $300,000 to City of Canning and $300,000 to Brightwater Care Group for centre-based day care, transport, domestic assistance, respite care, home maintenance, and IT equipment. Total investment in HACC services in WA grew by almost 9% last year to $196.6m.

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