Black Lung: Doctors’ skills go under the microscope

NEXT STEP: Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham will be on the receiving end of a report into the re-emergence of black lung next week.
NEXT STEP: Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham will be on the receiving end of a report into the re-emergence of black lung next week. DAVE HUNT

AN INDEPENDENT review into the re-emergence of black lung in Queensland has been completed and a report will likely be handed to Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham next week.

Occupational physician Dr Keith Adam, a member of the Monash University review's reference group, was confident its results will assist prevention and diagnosis after years of complacency.

"The situation with black lung (coal workers' pneumoconiosis) we have now was because we hadn't seen the disease for many years and everyone, the whole system, had become complacent," he said.

"The Department (of Natural Resources and Mines) and the government (departments) became somewhat starved of resources because they just weren't finding anything.

"It's very hard to keep on looking for something when you don't see it for so long. It's difficult to maintain skills when you don't use them for so long.

"You maintain skills with practice and if there wasn't any cases appearing, then it would be difficult for radiologists to maintain their skills level without that practice."

Black lung, a potentially fatal disease caused by long-term exposure to coal dust, was thought to be eradicated about three decades ago, but 11 people have now been diagnosed with the disease in Queensland in the past year.

"There will be fortunate outcomes from unfortunate circumstances because we've focused our attention back on the issue and the surveillance program will be enhanced," Dr Adam said.

He added cases of black lung we're seeing diagnosed now potentially began developing up to a decade ago or more.

And Dr Adam was hopeful better dust screening and control and health assessments for mine site workers in recent years would mean we wouldn't see a spike in cases in another decade.

However, unfortunately he believes more cases will likely be revealed in coming weeks and months.

"We're looking more closely now. As more people have been diagnosed awareness has increased," he said.

"With increased attention and focus more people have been found to have some level of the disease.

"It's a condition which develops very slowly. It's a result of constant and continual exposure over years.

"There could be exceptions if we have very heavy exposure, but I'd hope that's not happening in our mines today."

It's understood the report outlines 17 or more recommendations, including better training for health professionals dealing with black lung and improved health assessments.

Health checks for all coal mine workers leaving the industry will likely also be recommended, as well improved data storage and collection.

Topics:  doctors dr anthony lynham mb-blacklung skills

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