At the Health Literacy Project launch were (back, l-r) George Thompson, Dr Vahid Saberi, Wayne Jones, Chris Crawford, (former NNSWLHD CE), Dr Sharyn White, Jillian Adams, and (front, l-r), Melva Thompson (consumer rep), Hazel Bridgett, April Margieson (carer rep), Taya Prescott.

There is a serious disconnect between the reading ability of many Australians and the complexity of the health care information they need to understand, according to the chief executive of Northern NSW Local Health District, Wayne Jones.

Consequences include up to 40 per cent of booked surgeries being postponed because written instructions such as fasting are not followed, and 20 per cent of discharged patients not understanding their medications.

On the North Coast, Mr Jones revealed, up to one-in-four patients do not comprehend what doctors and nurses tell them, adding that while the average reading age sits at around school years 6 to 8, much of the material people receive is pitched at levels 11 to 12 years.

Such figures explain surveys showing up to 60 per cent of Australians have low health literacy, a term defined as “how well people can obtain, communicate, process and understand health information and services to make appropriate health decisions.”

Dr Andrew Binns speaking at the artist’s talk by Bundjalung painter Adrian Cameron (third from right), whose works are on display at Lismore Regional Art Gallery. At right is his former probation and parole officer, Patrick Coughlan.

At a fascinating and emotional artist’s talk on 15 December, accomplished ‘matchstick painter’ Adrian Cameron told the gathering how the only escape from prison was to withdraw into the world of his artwork, sometimes painting day and night to relieve the boredom and oppression of jail.

It is no secret that Adrian has experienced a tough life, becoming a ward of the state from the time he was born in Lismore Base Hospital.

Frequently institutionalized as a boy, he found himself imprisoned in adulthood, turning for solace to painting, his only real interest since primary school years.

Even then his main themes were the traditional imagery of the Widjabul clan of the Bundjalung Nation, including local animals like goannas and snakes, water life, sacred places and dreaming stories such as the Rainbow Serpent.

Students at Cape Byron lighthouse

The North Coast’s University Centre for Rural Health is set to further expand its role in developing regional health care capacity, according to Director Professor Ross Bailie, who said, “The year ahead will see us drawing further on the expertise of our highly regarded research team and coordinating the practical training of more university students from medical, nursing and allied health programs.”

Prof Bailie said UCRH has already developed strong links with the region’s key health bodies, Northern NSW Local Health District and the North Coast Primary Heath Network, and is looking to collaborate closely with other relevant groups in the coming year.

A survey of 417 low-income residents of NSW has found that a ‘quality health system’ is the main issue they want the State Government to take action on, with affordable dental care to be given top budgetary priority.

Almost 50 per cent of regional respondents cited cost as the major barrier to improving their health, while dental treatment, unaffordable for 38 per cent of interviewees, was the number-one ‘cannot afford’ item in a list that included decent housing, medical treatment and prescribed medication.

According to the AIHW, “The affordability of oral health care has both personal and system-wide implications, with dental conditions the third highest reason for acute preventable hospital admissions in Australia.”

Poor Health: The Cost of Living in NSW, the report based on the survey was released by the NSW Council of Social Service this week. NCOSS works with and for people experiencing poverty and disadvantage to see positive change in communities.

Santa is taking regular leave from his toy workshop to help prop up the leaning Christmas tree of Lismore.

On behalf of the Northern Rivers General Practice Network, the editorial team at GP Speak extends seasonal greetings to readers of our magazine and our regularly updated website.

In the past year we have presented a diversity of clinical articles and news stories relating to general practice, the broader health care debate in Australia, research initiatives, and stories about healthy lifestyle practices and recreational activities such as travel and books.

We greatly appreciate the support of our many contributors, as well as the health facility operators and other service providers, as well as universities, that have helped make GP Speak possible via their advertising and sponsorships.

We encourage other relevant organisations to consider taking up a commercial involvement with GP Speak in the year ahead.

We are mindful that a number of readers may be required to be on duty, or on call, during the holiday period, and their efforts will again be greatly valued by the broader community.