02 April 2024

SWSPHN Chief Executive Officer, Dr Keith McDonald PhD, will be among the keynote speakers at the next Sydney South West GP Link Breaking Down the Silos event at Rydges Campbelltown, on Tuesday, 30 April, from 6pm to 9pm.

GPs and non-GP specialists are invited to the next in the series of networking dinner meetings, which will focus on Poverty and the Socioeconomic Determinants of Health.

Other keynote speakers will include:

  • South Western Sydney Local Health District Chief Executive Sonia Marshall
  • Macarthur MP and paediatrician, Dr Mike Freelander MP
  • GP and Chair of the RACGP Specific Interest Group, Dr Tim Senior

There is no cost to attend.

Find out more/register
11 March 2024

Coeliac Australia is launching its Think Outside the Gut campaign this week, Coeliac Awareness Week, 13 to 20 March.

The campaign aims to raise awareness about coeliac disease and encourage individuals with potential symptoms to seek testing and diagnosis.

Coeliac Australia is highlighting the initiative to general practices in anticipation of an increased demand for coeliac disease testing across GP clinics.

 About coeliac disease:

Although coeliac disease is often considered a digestive issue, the reality is it can present with a large variety of different symptoms; some obvious, some more subtle.

Coeliac Australia recently conducted a survey with its members to uncover the range of symptoms leading to a coeliac disease diagnosis.

The survey highlighted 66 per cent of diagnoses were attributed to symptoms not related to the gut.

Specifically, 31 per cent of participants received their diagnosis following abnormal blood tests which indicated nutrient deficiencies or issues with liver enzymes, while 11 per cent identified chronic symptoms such as fatigue, joint pain, and skin rashes as key factors leading to their diagnosis.

The campaign:

Coeliac Australia is encouraging GP clinics to be prepared for the potential increase in demand in requests for testing, and to have resources available to support patients through the testing and diagnostic process.

Coeliac Australia has an online Health Professionals Hub with resources which may be assistance.

05 March 2024

Healthcare providers are being called on to stay up-to-date on infectious syphilis, amid a significant rise in syphilis diagnoses in Australia.

In the past decade, rates of syphilis diagnoses in Australia have tripled, according to a recent report by the Kirby Institute.

The rate of syphilis has increased six-fold among women, while congenital syphilis cases rose 68 per cent.

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, said we’re seeing the re-emergence of congenital syphilis, when the infection is transmitted during pregnancy.

“This can have devastating health consequences for newborn babies, including death,” he said.

“Congenital syphilis is also entirely preventable. We must ensure everyone is tested for syphilis during pregnancy. All pregnant people should be tested at least once, and in many cases more.”

Read more

Healthcare providers are urged to:

28 February 2024

Healthcare providers are being called on to stay up-to-date on infectious syphilis, amid a significant rise in syphilis diagnoses in Australia.

In the past decade, rates of syphilis diagnoses in Australia have tripled, according to a recent report by the Kirby Institute.

The rate of syphilis has increased six-fold among women, while congenital syphilis cases rose 68 per cent.

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, said we’re seeing the re-emergence of congenital syphilis, when the infection is transmitted during pregnancy.

“This can have devastating health consequences for newborn babies, including death,” he said.

“Congenital syphilis is also entirely preventable. We must ensure everyone is tested for syphilis during pregnancy. All pregnant people should be tested at least once, and in many cases more.”

Read more or watch the video below

Healthcare providers are urged to:

27 February 2024

Screening for gambling harm at general practices and community-based organisations could support a holistic approach to client care by addressing gambling as one part of a wider problem, and de-stigmatising gambling harm, a pilot study has found.

The study’s findings were published in a report, Exploring the feasibility of a gambling harm screening model in general practice and community service settings in Fairfield, in the Australian Journal of Primary Health last week (18 February).

The research was undertaken by the Fairfield City Health Alliance Gambling Working Group, a partnership between the three levels of government – SWSPHN, South Western Sydney Local Health District (SWSLHD) and Fairfield City Council – the multicultural gambling service, social service providers and academics.

It used a community-designed screening tool to detect and reduce harm from gambling in the Fairfield Local Government Area – an area where $1.7 million is lost to poker machines each day, and where people from all walks of life are represented in its diversity of cultures, religions and social backgrounds.

The screening tool, used by GPs and community workers in Fairfield for 13 weeks in 2020, was developed for multicultural communities and materials were translated into three languages (Arabic, Assyrian and Vietnamese).

More than 130 patients completed the online screening and were referred to help services.

Screening data showed 40 per cent of clients had no risk of gambling harm, 17 per cent were considered at-risk due to their gambling behaviour and 20 per cent due to someone else’s gambling behaviour.

Twenty-three per cent of clients were identified as being at risk of gambling harm from both themselves and someone else.

These rates of gambling harm are substantially higher than the 2019 NSW state prevalence survey.

The research findings suggest stigma poses a significant barrier to gambling treatment in multicultural communities, and that gambling screening in general practice could help overcome gambling stigma and support those communities.

The research also highlighted the complexity of gambling harm and treatments.

Community workers emphasised the need to prioritise other pressing issues, such as financial harm, domestic violence and homelessness, particularly for individuals affected by others’ gambling.

One worker ensured clients received emotional and mental health support while providing information about gambling help services.

“Therefore, addressing gambling-related concerns was often not the top priority, rather a secondary issue,” the report said.

The report’s conclusion: “Primary healthcare and community service settings can play a role in screening for and mitigating gambling harm within communities’’.

Read the article
27 February 2024

GPs piloting a screening tool to detect and reduce harm from gambling at practices in the Fairfield LGA say their involvement in the study, and the associated training, improved their understanding of gambling issues and increased their comfort in initiating conversations about gambling with patients.

The study’s findings were published in a report, Exploring the feasibility of a gambling harm screening model in general practice and community service settings in Fairfield, in the Australian Journal of Primary Health last week (18 February).

The research was undertaken by the Fairfield City Health Alliance Gambling Working Group, a collaboration between the three levels of government – SWSPHN, South Western Sydney Local Health District (SWSLHD) and Fairfield City Council – the multicultural gambling service, social service providers and academics.

It aimed to explore the enablers and barriers to implementing a co-designed screening tool in Fairfield – an area with high gambling expenditure.

The screening tool, used by GPs and community workers for 13 weeks in 2020, was developed for culturally and linguistically diverse communities, and materials were translated into three languages (Arabic, Assyrian and Vietnamese).

A training and resource kit was also developed for participants.

More than 130 patients completed the online screening and were referred to help services.

The screening data showed 40 per cent of patients had no risk of gambling harm, 17 per cent were considered at-risk due to their gambling behaviour and 20 per cent were at risk due to someone else’s gambling behaviour.

Twenty-three per cent of patients were identified as being at risk of gambling harm from both their own behaviour and someone else’s.

These rates of gambling harm are substantially higher than the 2019 NSW state prevalence survey.

Study participants said the tool was easy to use, the training empowered them to initiate conversations about gambling, and screening was a positive addition to holistic patient care.

One worker said they found the tool a “really good way to … start building on that relationship regarding gambling”.

Another said they used the tool to say “We’re here not to judge you. We’re here to support you’’.

One GP said they were now more comfortable bringing up, and even just having a basic discussion, about gambling after participating in the study.

Another GP suggested integrating questions about gambling harm into practices as part of an overall comprehensive approach, similar to asking about smoking or alcohol consumption.

The research found the screening tool showed real promise for addressing gambling in primary health and community settings, and was an entry point to:

  • identify the level of gambling harm within community settings
  • support active referral of those experiencing gambling harm to support services
  • support a holistic approach to patient care by addressing gambling as part of comorbidities
  • de-stigmatise gambling harm

Other findings from the study included:

  • stigma poses a significant barrier to gambling treatment in culturally and linguistically diverse communities
  • future implementation of screening in general practice and community services must have appropriate referral pathways in place to support patients
  • staff must be adequately trained to engage in conversations around gambling harm, recognise indicators of gambling harm, and provide the appropriate referral and help-seeking pathways
  • future research should examine the feasibility of embedding screening tools into practice management software systems

The report said: “In Australia, due to the high comorbidity between gambling harm and related issues addressed in primary care and community services, implementing gambling screening measures in these contexts is likely to be beneficial”.

Read the article
22 February 2024

Workers from community organisations in Fairfield city are invited to a capacity building workshop around tackling gambling harm, on Monday, 11 March from 10am to noon, at Fairfield Youth and Community Centre.

The free workshop, Tackling Gambling Harm in Our Community:  Effective Strategies and Community Engagement, will:

  • present community concerns about gambling-related harm in Fairfield city
  • discuss evidence-based strategies to mitigate harm
  • provide a platform for idea exchange, information sharing, advocacy, and networking
  • explore opportunities for forming and strengthening local action groups that involve community workers and residents

The workshop is being presented by the Fairfield City Health Alliance Gambling Working Group, a partnership between Fairfield City Council, South Western Sydney Local Health District and SWSPHN.

A light lunch will be provided.

Reserve a spot
12 February 2024

Partnering to support and improve the health and wellbeing of the Wollondilly community, the Wollondilly Health Alliance has been re-launched with the signing of a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).

The alliance is a formal partnership between Wollondilly Shire Council, South Western Sydney Local Health District and SWSPHN. It was initially formed in March 2014 to connect services and improve health outcomes for the community.

Following a review of the previous governance structure and focus areas, the refreshed Wollondilly Health Alliance aims to apply a fresh and coordinated approach to meeting the diverse health and wellbeing needs of people in the Wollondilly Shire.

The new priorities for the Wollondilly Health Alliance over the period of the MoU include:

  • Carrying out a health needs assessment for the growing Wollondilly community to support planning and advocacy for future health services
  • Strengthening access to, and availability of, an integrated network of health services across the Wollondilly Shire including telemedicine
  • Continuing to embed the principles of health and wellbeing into the council’s daily operations through joint training initiatives
  • Increasing awareness about the impacts disasters have on health and wellbeing, and how communities can better prepare themselves

Wollondilly Mayor Matt Gould said Wollondilly Shire would face significant challenges over the next few years due to its growing population.

“We will continue to strongly advocate for the health services we need for our current and future communities,” he said.

“I look forward to working collaboratively through the Wollondilly Health Alliance to improve health outcomes for all our community members.”

South Western Sydney Local Health District Chief Executive Sonia Marshall said the alliance would draw on each partner’s strengths. 

“By working together and sharing our expertise, skills and resources, the alliance has the potential to achieve greater outcomes collectively,” she said.

“We will deliver projects aimed at improving social connection and health access for the community, including trialing innovative approaches to shape the health care of the future.”

SWSPHN Chief Executive Officer, Dr Keith McDonald PhD, said the new MoU reflected the alliance’s evolution into a more results-oriented partnership.

“With the Wilton and Appin expansions, the population of Wollondilly is set to triple in the next 30 years,” he said.

“The alliance is focused on identifying what health services are needed to support this growing population, and ultimately, what we need to do to improve the health and wellbeing of Wollondilly residents.

“The alliance will be looking to better coordinate our preparedness for, and response to natural disasters, and to improve how virtual technologies are used to ensure local health services are working smarter, not harder.

“The new alliance structure allows us to build on the solid foundation of work undertaken during the past decade.”

CAPTION:

Back row (left to right):

Peter Buckley, Wollondilly Shire Council, Director Shire Services

Ben Neville, South Western Sydney Primary Health Network, Integration and Priority Populations Manager

Matt Gould, Wollondilly Mayor

Dr Keith McDonald, South Western Sydney Primary Health Network, Chief Executive Officer.

Front row (left to right):

Mandy Williams, South Western Sydney Local Health District, Director of Population Health

Sonia Marshall, South Western Sydney Local Health District, Chief Executive

08 December 2023

Ho ho ho.

December has darted by and you’re already staring down the Christmas Day barrel. Time to get out the checklist and make sure you’ve got all bases covered.

  • Tree and decorations up✅ and up to scratch ✅
  • Gifts for everyone ✅ Wrapped✅ Labelled✅ Under the tree✅
  • Fridge stocked ✅ Alcohol✅
  • Ready for the big day ✅

But slow down.

While preparations for Christmas Day are in hand, there’s a lot of other considerations – focusing on safety and wellbeing – which need some thought and planning as well.

The festive and holiday season are about winding down, celebrations, get-togethers and parties, family and friends, getting away, day trips … and generally eating and drinking too much.

Some of those activities, done on the spur and in the spirit of the moment or without thinking or planning, can present unnecessary risks.

There’s also the natural elements to take into consideration – sun, heat and dry storms can combine lethally to produce bushfires.

At the same time, businesses take the opportunity for a breather – so availability and access to goods and services are limited. 

Here’s some examples of the festive season gone wrong!

  • Celebrating outdoors in the heat of the day. Sun and alcohol don’t mix. Think heatstroke or sunburn. And the chemist or your GP are closed.
  • Heading away for a few days, and you’ve posted your excitement on social media. You’ve also forgotten to get your mail held at the post office. Your friends are happy for you – and so are potential thieves.
  • You’ve gone hard on your Christmas lights display this year. But you’ve used double adaptors and plugged too many lights into one power socket. There’s a meltdown. And a fire.
  • The weather is enticing, and you’ve launched the boat for a few hours in the bay. Alcohol and jovial spirits are a recipe for disaster.

Beyond the Christmas tree and tinsel, some risk assessment and planning should be part of your overall festive preparations.

These will guarantee a safer and happier holiday season all round.

Medication mastermind

According to Healthdirect Australia, more than one in five Australians forget to pack their medication when going on holiday.

Do you have enough prescriptions and medications to get you through the public holidays? If you’re going away, do you have an up-to-date list of your medications?

Visit your GP and pharmacy before the Christmas shutdown and plan ahead.

Theft and security suggestions

Annual crime statistics show an increase in burglaries in the lead-up to Christmas, with a spike in January.

Insurance claims for household theft also skyrocket during the same period.

Common claims over the festive season include jewellery, electrical equipment, computers and accessories, bikes, and tools.

There’s a few simple and commonsense safeguards you can take to protect your home and property.

If you’re home over Christmas:

  • Don’t put Christmas trees and presents near windows with a street view as this can encourage opportunistic thieves.
  • If you are expecting parcel deliveries and no one is home, redirect the parcel to the PO or get a PO locker.
  • Lock toys and tools away each night.
  • Front and back doors are the first line of defence against potential thieves. Invest in the best quality door locks, screens and maybe even a security system.

If you’re going away:

  • Don’t post your holiday plans on social media.
  • Ensure the house is securely locked, including windows usually left open.
  • Smart plugs can be set on timers or controlled automatically, and some systems even have a built-in mode which will randomly turn lights or a radio/television on or off during evening or morning hours.
  • Redirect your mail or have it collected by a friend. Ask the friend to regularly clear brochures and advertising material from the letterbox.
  • Tell neighbours or friends, who can check on the house, you are away and who will be at the house legitimately, such as pet minders, family or the mowing man.
  • Secure your garage or, if unable, move items such as bikes inside the house.
  • Do not leave cash in the house and make sure jewellery is locked away in a safe place.
  • Mow the lawn, tidy the yard and stop all deliveries.
  • If you have a landline, turn off the answering machine and turn the phone volume down.

NSW Police recommend some simple ongoing measures to protect your property and give you peace of mind all year through.

Christmas commonsense

Everyone wants their Christmas decorations to look the best and reflect the festive mood.

There’s the twinkling lights display outside, more lights on the tree and perhaps some animated electric displays indoors.

You also might have some Christmas candles to set the atmosphere.

Remember, there are some important do’s and don’ts:

  • Check all smoke detectors in your house in the lead-up to Christmas.
  • Safely maintain your indoor and outdoor electrical decorations. Check them for frayed or bent cords and blown or flickering globes. Keep a record of when you bought the items and replace them as they age.
  • Don’t overload circuits, extension cords, or electrical sockets. Spread decorations across multiple circuits to prevent a meltdown.
  • Consider where to place your Christmas tree. If it’s a real tree, it will dry out and could become a fire hazard.
  • Never leave candles unattended or near flammable objects such as curtains.
  • Turn off lights and other electronics before going to bed.

Kitchen craziness

Festive and holiday season celebrations often start in the kitchen and adjourn to the dining room table. Family and friendship bonds are cemented by good food and accompanied by a glass of wine or beer.

But the fun and laughter can take the focus away from kitchen and cooking safety. A Christmas safety article reports on Christmas Day one in 10 people experience cooking burns and blisters with hot liquids, and one in five people tend to get serious cuts while cutting the meat and vegetables. 

There are a few reminders to take the crazy out of the kitchen on Christmas Day:

  • Limit the number of people in the kitchen – keep children and pets out – and especially around the hotplate, oven and food.
  • Don’t wear loose clothing or sleeves that dangle while cooking.
  • If you are frying, grilling or boiling food, don’t leave pans and pots unattended. If you’re simmering, baking or roasting food, check regularly.
  • Use a timer to remind yourself the stove or oven is on.
  • Keep flammable items, such as pot holders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper and plastic bags, food packaging and towels, away from your stove, oven or any other kitchen appliance that generates heat.
  • Use different chopping boards for raw meat, fruit and vegetables.

There’s also some important steps to follow for food preparation and cooking, serving and storage – to ensure you and your family and friends stay safe.

  • Always cook poultry, minced meat and sausages all the way through until the juices run clear and there is no pink.
  • Whole pieces of red meat can be cooked to taste, and if it is properly heated and well browned on the outside to kill bacteria it can be rare inside.
  • Food should not be kept at between 5°C and 60°C — the ‘temperature danger zone’ — for more than two hours. If perishable food has been in the temperature danger zone for two to four hours, you should use it immediately. If perishable food has been in the temperature danger zone for more than four hours, toss it in the bin.
  • Keep food steaming hot until you serve it.
  • Cool leftovers quickly. This prevents bacteria which have survived the cooking process from multiplying while your hot food cools down. The best way to do this is to cover any leftovers and put them in the fridge or freezer. Leftovers can generally be kept for two to four days in the fridge.
  • If you’re sending guests home with leftovers, give them ice packs or blocks from the freezer to keep their food chilled on the way home.
  • When you reheat leftover foods, make sure all parts are steaming hot, enough to kill off any bacteria. Reheat food rapidly to at least 70ºC.

Drink smart, not hard

We’ve all done it! It’s easy to get carried away with friends, parties and festivities, the moment … and the drinks just keep flowing. We can be regretful the next day, but in the meantime some damage may have been done. Relationships. Poor decisions. Accidents.

Think first, before you’re not in a position to make a good decision:

  • If you’re out and about and drinking, always have a plan on how you’re getting home. Never drive. Consider public transport options.
  • If you’re in a group, always look out for one another.
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic beverages.
  • Don’t combine alcohol with too much sun. Alcohol will dehydrate you quicker.
  • If you’re had some drinks, avoid activities that put you in the driver’s seat like driving, bike riding, skating, boating or surfing.
  • Step away from lively differences of opinion that may develop into arguments. Agree to disagree.
  • If you do find yourself in a triggering situation, call it a night.
  • If you’re the host of a get-together, ensure there’s plenty of snacks and non-alcoholic drinks. Make games and activities available that offer a break from drinking.

Sun smart

The festive season coincides with summer holidays and, of course, that’s the peak heat point of the year.

Extreme heat events in Australia claim more deaths than all other natural hazard events combined. Those at greater risk include older people, people with existing medical conditions, babies and young children, outdoor workers, socially isolated people, people who are homeless and pregnant women.

Visit NSW Health for some beat the heat advice and recommendations. Healthdirect also has some great information and suggestions to stay cool and avoid hot weather risks.

Cancer Council NSW still promotes its slip, slop and slap campaign, though in later years it has added another two pieces of sound advice: seek shade and slide on the sunglasses.

DIY dangers

Holidays are the perfect time to catch up on some DIY projects and house maintenance. Think ladders, electrical equipment or chemicals.

A few simple measures can mean the difference between getting the job done safely and a trip to emergency:

  • Safety gear: Wear the right clothing for the job such as long sleeves and pants, enclosed shoes, protective glasses, earmuffs or plugs; breathing protection, gloves, disposable overalls, cut-resistant clothing and kneepads.
  • Hidden dangers: Be aware of the age of your property and be on the alert for lead-based paints and asbestos-based products.
  • Tools: Use the right tool for the job and make sure it’s in good working order. Always let someone know what you are doing so they can be aware of risks and hazards and find you if needed. It’s good practice to have someone working with you when using ladders, even at low heights.
  • Tradesman: Don’t attempt jobs that require a licensed tradesman such as electrician or plumber. It’s illegal to do them yourself.
  • Assess the job: Don’t do a DIY job beyond your capabilities and tool kit. Safety, structural integrity and longevity are paramount, especially for future homeowners.

Bushfire threat

Most of us remember the 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires which roared into life across Australia, caused by dry conditions, a lack of soil moisture and, finally, extreme temperatures. They peaked in December 2019 and were only extinguished completely in May 2020, after ravaging 24.3 million hectares, destroying 3,000 buildings (including 2,782 homes), and claiming 34 lives.

  • The NSW Government has guidelines on how to prepare a bushfire survival plan.
  • The NSW RFS has an online assessment tool designed to help you make an informed decision when making your bush fire survival plan, such as whether you will leave early, or stay with your property and defend it.
  • While no one wants any type of emergency over Christmas, it’s always wise to be prepared in a practical sense. An emergency preparedness kit should be stocked and stored in an accessible spot. It should include food, water, medications, phone numbers, first aid kit, torch with extra batteries, and blankets.

Take the stress out of Christmas

The Christmas and holiday season are a conundrum. On one hand, they’re about family, friends, and celebrations. That can bring lots of fun and laughter, though it can be a cause of stress in itself.

But it’s also the loneliest time of the year for some. Lifeline reports calls and texts peak up to 6 per cent above average in the days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve and on the day immediately after the New Year’s Day public holiday.

Healthdirect offers a practical eight ways to stress-proof your festive season. Healthdirect also offers 24-hour health advice on 1800 022 222.

If you need and want to talk to someone, there’s always a caring and friendly person at Lifeline 11 13 14, while the Mental Health Line can offer support on 1800 011 511.

30 November 2023

Despite being a curable condition, hepatitis C remains one of the leading causes of liver cancer in Australia.

To meet the World Health Organization’s hepatitis C virus (HCV) elimination targets by 2030, we need to increase screening and diagnosis, upskill the workforce, and implement innovative models of care.

Reaching people in rural and remote locations remains a key challenge in the HCV response.

The NSW Hepatitis C Remote Prescribing Program aims to address this.

The program utilises a nurse-led and patient-centred model of care.

Nurses perform the initial hepatitis C assessment and patient work-up then refer to prescribers who review the information and initiate direct acting antiviral (DAA) therapy.

Several resources have been developed and/or tailored to facilitate the efficient exchange of clinical information and virtual prescribing. 

Only patients who meet the Remote Consultation Criteria can be included in the program (ie patients must be non-cirrhotic or have compensated cirrhosis and have no significant co-morbidities).

The NSW Hepatitis C Remote Prescribing program was established in November 2020 to facilitate linkages between nurses and prescribers to increase access to treatment in regional areas.

Funded by NSW Health and coordinated by ASHM, the program has since been extended to other settings where treatment may otherwise be limited, including mental health services, alcohol and other drugs services, Aboriginal Medical Services and homelessness settings.   

During the past three years, the program’s model of care has demonstrated highly successful outcomes, enabling more than 210 patients to be initiated onto treatment.

While all medical practitioners and authorised nurse practitioners can prescribe direct acting antiviral (DAA) therapy for the treatment of hepatitis C, the program can expedite and facilitate increased access to treatment in patients’ preferred settings.

Nurses participating in the program provide flexible, patient-centred, on-treatment support, harm minimisation education and individualised follow-up to help these patients through treatment and achieve hepatitis C cure.

For more information about the program, visit the program webpage at www.ashm.org.au/hcv/nsw-hepatitis-c-remote-prescribing-program or email NSWLinkages@ashm.org.au if you are interested in joining the program as a prescriber or referrer.

For more information about hepatitis C, see www.ashm.org.au/resources and the Reach-C website at www./reach-c.ashm.org.au which provides an online form for practitioners who are not already experienced in hepatitis C treatment to gain specialist approval within 24 hours to initiate DAA therapy.

ASHM also provides free online training and on-demand learning in HIV, viral hepatitis, and sexual health medicine.

For more details, go to www.ashm.org.au/learning-hub.