Black Lung review: Diagnosis missed by doctors

In Health & Safety, Latest News

One of the six Queensland miners with a confirmed case of Black Lung was initially misdiagnosed by a doctor, a panel investigating to re-emergence of the deadly lung disease has found.

The miner’s “significant decline in lung function” was missed by medical professionals because they could not access past medical history.

The review, commissioned by the State Government, found the coal miner’s health background should have been accessible to to the doctor under the Queensland Coal Mine Workers’ Health Scheme.

Currently, there is a backlog of about 100,000 health assessment forms waiting to be entered into the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines database.

The review stated that before the mid-1990s, all forms were data entered onto a database, since then forms have been scanned and some data manually entered into the database.

Resources to enter data into the database did not increase when the number of health assessments increased during the mining boom, leading to the huge backlog. Some of the forms have been scanned and logged into the database, but the complete data has not been entered onto the database.

Led by Monash University Professor Malcolm Sim, the group released an eight-page draft overview of their interim findings last week, with one of their 31 recommendations that data needed to be electronically entered and medicos should be able to access all miners’ records.

Minister for State Development and Minister for Natural Resources and Mines Dr Anthony Lynham announced a special group of coal mining medicos will be created to tackle the growing health concerns of Queensland miners surrounding the re-emergence of black lung disease.

“The re-emergence of coal workers pneumoconiosis is an issue I have taken very seriously and that’s why there’s an independent review underway into the state’s health screening system,” he said.

Dr Lynham said doctors who undertake the regular official health assessments of miners’, known as nominated medical advisers, would be given standard introductory training and require minimum training and experience.

“One of the interim findings of the independent is a closer focus on developing and maintaining a manageable core cohort of nominated medical advisers,” he said.

Black Lung recommendations supported, but more work to do says union

CFMEU Mining and Energy Division Queensland District President Stephen Smyth welcomed the recommendations, as long at they were “done in the right way”.

“The union support the recommendation to have a tripartite group look at the screening aspect, but that needs to be done by independent assessors and not doctors, or other medical professionals, aligned to coal companies,” Mr Smyth said.

“The nominated medical assessors need to be trained and competent to the ILO standards for detecting Black Lung, including to the B Reader level which we all accept is world’s best practice, and is already being used by coal companies in Queensland such as Vale.”

Mr Smyth said for families and workers to be confident that their loved ones were getting the right advice, with screenings robust, transparent, and not influenced by industry.

“Our members and their families need to have faith and confidence in the system that is assessing the health of their loved ones. That faith has been ripped away with the inability of the industry to detect multiple cases of the disease and that needs to be rebuilt,” he said.

“There is still a lot of work to be done to address the current issues and ensure all present coal miners have a clean bill of health and are free of Black Lung.

“When the current crop of underground miners are checked, we then have to work through miners in open cuts, and those retired or no longer working in the industry.”

The team is due to provide the final report mid-year.

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