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Wednesday, 27 February 1985
Page: 243

Senator COATES —I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Health whether he has seen the claim by Dr Denis Mackey that repetition strain injury was invented two years ago as a 'bit of a joke', that 'aches and pains of everyday life have been translated into RSI and floated to a gullible community as a workers compensation claim', and that 'the myth of RSI is at present a stage of amusement for the medical profession'? Does the Minister agree that Dr Mackey is just being mischievous and is in effect accusing many general practitioners and specialists of misdiagnosing, and that such an attitude by a member of the medical profession could inhibit sufferers of RSI from seeking early treatment at the risk of permanent injury? Is it possible for the Minister to estimate how many other doctors in the community may be seeing RSI victims and dismissing their complaints as malingering?

Senator GRIMES —I have no way of quantifying the information Senator Coates asked for in the latter part of his question, nor have I any information from the Minister for Health on that matter. I will see whether there is any information of that type available, but I doubt very much that there is. Dr Mackey is well known to Senator Coates, me and a few other people. He is many things, but an expert on RSI he is not, although I suppose he is entitled to his views, like anyone else. He is a prolific writer of letters to newspapers on all sorts of subjects, from political philosophy to Medicare and economics. His pet hates in life seem to be, in some order of magnitude: Public servants, the Australian Labor Party, the Liberal Party of Australia, and the Australian Medical Association. He is quite catholic in his interests and dislikes.

Senator Tate —Catholic?

Senator GRIMES —I apologise, Senator Tate, I was not referring to your religion. I think therefore that not too many members of the medical profession will take Dr Mackey's letter very seriously. As Senator Coates says, it could have unfortunate effects in the treatment of the people who have what has come to be known as repetition strain injury.

Among Dr Mackey's remarks was the statement that RSI was just an Australian phenomenon. In fact, although the incidence seems to be very high in this country, particularly in the Public Service, there is a substantial body of literature on this syndrome in Europe, in medical journals in the United States of America and, of course, in Australia. At the moment an Australian Public Service task force, headed by Mr Des Linehan, is in the process of hearing submissions from various government departments, professional organisations, individuals and others such as unions, on this very subject. All the indications, I believe, are that RSI is a widespread condition, not only in Australia but also overseas, in which physical, psychological, management and ergonometric factors play their part. Quite clearly, whatever the cause, it is a major occupational health problem in Australia. The Government and the Department of Health are aware of the issues involved. We are taking steps to examine the problem in depth as a matter of priority. I suggest that the best thing Dr Mackey can do to back up his views is to offer to give evidence to the task force of the Public Service Board. Any evidence he has can be examined by that body and we can see whether he has anything useful to contribute.

I make the final comment that it has been a general belief in the medical profession that propositions of the type Dr Mackey has put are best put forward in a scientific way and in a way that can be examined by the medical profession and others who have to deal with the problem. In most cases it is believed that seeking publicity in what is euphemistically called the popular Press or through letters to newspapers is neither scientific nor sensible. I can only assume that what Dr Mackey is up to is what he is often up to, and that is to get his name on the front page of as many newspapers as possible in this country.