News in brief: Professor Michelle Haber elected to AAS; Hospitals have legal duty to safeguard against staff psychological harm; Patient voices a good predictor of cancer treatment outcomes


Professor Michelle Haber elected to AAS

Cancer researcher Professor Michelle Haber has been elected as a Fellow of the prestigious Australian Academy of Science for her outstanding contribution to science.

Professor Haber, Executive Director of Children’s Cancer Institute, UNSW Sydney, was part of the team that developed minimal residual disease testing for children with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

As Head of the Experimental Therapeutics Group, her current research focuses on developing effective treatments for children with neuroblastoma, and extending these treatments to other childhood malignancies including brain tumours, leukaemias and sarcomas.

She has also driven the establishment of Australia’s first national child cancer precision medicine program Zero Childhood Cancer (ZERO).

Her research contributions have previously been honoured with a Member of the Order of Australia, a NSW Premier’s Award for Outstanding Cancer Researcher of the Year, and Fellowship of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences.


Hospitals have legal duty to safeguard against staff psychological harm

Hospitals and other employers must take “proactive and meaningful steps” to care for the mental health and wellbeing of workers, a leading medical indemnity provider says.

The warning from Avant Mutual follows a decision last month by the High Court, which found in favour of a public prosecutor who sued her former employer for failing to protect her from workplace trauma.

She was ultimately awarded significant damages.

“The decision is a sad reminder to employers that they cannot adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach where the work of their employees inherently involves psychosocial hazards,” said Avant senior solicitor Frances Thomas.

She suggested employers conduct health and safety risk assessments to identify challenging situations, including violent, angry or distressed patients and extremely high workloads.

It was also likely that many staff had seen their mental health impacted through COVID-19, adding to the need for workplace health and safety systems to be agile and proactive, Ms Thomas added.

“We recommend that all practices have systems in place to manage psychosocial hazards,” she said.

AMA vice president Dr Chris Moy said more protections were needed, calling on all states and territories to enact legislation making hospital boards directly and explicitly responsible for the psychosocial wellbeing of their staff.

Laws that did so were currently only in place in South Australia, he said.


Patient voices a good predictor of cancer treatment outcomes

Patient-reported outcomes can provide a better indication of a women’s response to breast cancer treatment than clinician-based tools, a new study has found,

The Flinders University study pooled data from several trials to comprise almost 3000 patients who underwent drug treatments for HER2-positive breast cancer.

It found that a number of patient-reported outcomes, including those on physical well-being and mental health, were significantly associated with the patient’s overall survival, progression-free survival or severe grade ≥3 adverse events.

“Additionally, this study found both patient-reported physical well-being and clinician-interpreted ECOG PS provide independent prognostic information,” the study said.

“It is, therefore, essential that clinical practice transforms to place a greater emphasis on the patient’s perspective and voice.”

The study found 70% of the patients who their clinicians defined as ‘fully active, and able to carry on all pre-disease performance without restrictions’ went on to self-report limitations in their physical well-being status.

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