From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Waiting list numbers explained. Yesterday we ran a tip on the Queensland government’s “Wait Time Guarantee” policy, which had been advertised on television up until Wednesday night. The ads made various claims about wait times for elective surgery going down under the Newman government, which our tipsters found very hard to swallow.

After deadline we got a response from Queensland Health about those claims. While Queensland Health could confirm that the ads were correct in claiming that no one was on the overdue list for a cochlear implant (according to the department there were 22 people on the waiting list at the end of last year). We asked how many people were on the waiting list for all elective surgeries and how many were overdue. We were told:

“For the September quarter 2014, there were 31,644 patients (including those not ready for care) on the elective surgery waiting list and 531 patients (including those not ready for care) on the elective surgery long waiting list. Wait list data is published quarterly and the September quarter is the most recent.”

The ads claim “Three years ago, more than 60,000 people were overdue for dental treatment — now nobody is.” We asked how it was measured that people were overdue, and how many were now waiting. We were told:

“As at 31 December 2014 there were 74,101 people on the general care public dental waiting list across Queensland, with no one waiting longer than 2 years and 65,950 (89%) waiting up to 1 year.”

The tip got quite the response from our readers in Queensland, who tell us it’s the wait to see a specialist that really adds to wait times:

“If you check with the medical profession you will find that Qld Health is controlling who gets to see surgeons because until a patient does they cannot get on a waiting list. Hence waiting list numbers have been reduced! You could also ask what surgery is not being made available to public patients as I understand that there are significant restrictions.”

“The trick is that a surgical waiting list starts when you are booked to have surgery (ie have seen a surgeon and signed a consent form and had that sent to theatre bookings with a surgical bookings form). It doesn’t apply to the amount of time you might have to wait from between when your GP refers you to a surgeon and you actually get to see them in their outpatient clinic. GP > Surgical outpatients (wait, not guaranteed) Surgical Outpatients > Theatre (wait, guaranteed with fine print).”

“One of the [Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital] surgeons tells me that they are not allowed to put people onto waiting lists if an overload is expected even before that you have to get an OPD appointment You get to wait somewhere in the system.”

We asked Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg’s office if the claims in the ad were misleading, and received a response just before deadline. A spokesperson for the minister pointed to this website, which explains that 531 patients were considered on the “long wait list” for elective surgery in the September quarter of last year. Waiting longer than two years is the “overdue” time for dental treatment, and “you can see we have been completely accurate in our presentation of data, the way numbers have been reduced and the subsequent implementation of the WTG,” the spokesperson said.

We asked about the wait times to see a specialist and were told, “Our commitment is that once surgery is prescribed by a specialist, we will deliver the surgery in the recommended time”.

Can anybody find me some candidates? It’s not just One Nation that is scrabbling to find candidates for Queensland’s snap poll — Katter’s Australian Party is also looking a bit light on. A tipster pointed out that Katter’s website shows just nine endorsed candidates, with two wearing hats like their leader, and not a single woman. Last Queensland election Katter ran 86 candidates, with three getting elected. Will February mean the end of KAP in Queensland’s halls of power?

Beefed up security at News. While Myriam Robin writes today that The Australian was careful about publishing photos of Charlie Hebdo‘s most controversial covers out of fears for the safety of their staff, we hear from a tipster that they are taking the threat very seriously indeed:

“The Herald Sun in Southbank has two armed security guards in the lobby for the first time. They’re old enough to be someone’s grandparents, but at least Hun employees know Rupert cares about them.”

Metadata and local councils. Last year Bernard Keane listed all the government agencies that could request access to our metadata from telecommunications companies, and the short answer was “who can’t?”. Upon reading that local councils were among the agencies that could access metadata, one Crikey reader got in touch with her local council to ask if they access metadata, and received this detailed answer from a public servant, saying that they don’t access metadata as they haven’t applied to the Attorney-General’s office:

“After a considerable amount of research I am able to advise as follows:

The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 is administered by the Attorney General’s Department.  In order to access any information held by telecommunications companies, application must firstly be made in writing to the Attorney General, clearly outlining the reasons and justification for access to be provided.  This application is assessed by the Attorney General and, if successful, the applicant then becomes listed as a registered Enforcement Agency with the telecommunications companies. Once registered, the Agency can contact the telecommunications company directly to request access to certain metadata.

My understanding is that the intent of the proposed changes to the legislation is to require organisations to be registered as a Criminal Agency, rather than an Enforcement Agency, in order to gain access to the information.  The application would still need to go through the Attorney General, but registration as a Criminal Agency will be more difficult to attain.  Any organisation currently registered as an Enforcement Agency would need to re-apply to the Attorney General for status as a Criminal Agency.  As the criteria to be met for registration as a Criminal Agency is more stringent, fewer organisations will be granted registration, resulting in tighter control being maintained over the information held by telecommunications companies.

To my knowledge Hornsby Council has not made application to the Attorney General for registration as either an Enforcement or Criminal Agency. I trust this information is useful and assists your understanding of the protection of personal information.  Should you have further questions about this matter you may wish to contact the Attorney General’s Department directly.”

We hope that eases the minds of any other Crikey readers in the Hornsby Council area. If you find out from one of your local agencies if they are using metadata, we’d love to know.

Detention centres/10. We picked on Google earlier this week for putting satire in the news section, but now our attention has been drawn to Google Reviews. While useful when trying to find info on a restaurant or movie, we’re not sure this is how the feature was intended to be used:

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to [email protected] or use our guaranteed anonymous form.

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Peter Fray
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