2014 December Newsletter

Spine Society of Australia  December 2014

SSA President’s eNewsletter

Dear SSA Members and Colleagues,

As incoming President of the Spine Society of Australia, I welcome you all to the 2014 Christmas edition of our eNewsletter.  Many of us I am sure feel bombarded with frequent emails and for all of us, particularly our surgical colleagues, this is a very busy time of the year, both in regard to our workload and also the many social functions, which we attend. However, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your families a relaxing and fulfilling festive season and a much deserved Christmas holiday break from work.

Members of our Society continue to be enthusiastic and actively involved in many areas relating to instructional course and continuing education activities across Australia. This applies to neurosurgeon and orthopaedic surgeon members, as well as non-surgeon members.

Over the last two years the Spine Society of Australia has been increasingly involved in important national issues, often with direct communication from the Department of Health.  Our advice is requested and valued at Government level.  The forthcoming MBS item number review in particular will involve direct representation and input from our Society, which will affect all surgeons practising spinal surgery in this country for many years. As the peak association in Australia representing spinal surgeons, it is more important than ever that we remain strong; I would remind all neurosurgeons and orthopaedic surgeons that the Spine Society of Australia is open and inclusive, and colleagues with an interest in spinal disorders and spinal surgery should be encouraged to join our Society.  As you know, attendance at our annual scientific meetings does not require being a member and visitors should be encouraged.  It would also be a great opportunity for new members to attend our next Annual Scientific Meeting in April 2015, Canberra.


Scientific Meetings

The Spine Society of Australia 26th Annual Scientific Meeting will be held in Canberra from 10-12 April 2015 at the National Convention Centre. The theme of the meeting is ‘Complications in spinal surgery; management and revision strategies’.  The SSA executive is working hard to ensure that this will be another very successful meeting.  We are very fortunate in securing two extremely well respected keynote international speakers; Professor Randall Chesnut, dual qualified orthopaedic spine surgeon and neurosurgeon from Seattle, USA and Dr Daniel Chan, orthopaedic spine surgeon from Exeter, UK will be involved in instructional lectures and also in two symposia relating to various aspects of spinal surgery complications.  Professor Chesnut has a particular interest in perioperative complications and intraoperative spinal cord monitoring.  Dr Chan has particular expertise and experience in anterior approach spinal surgery.

The ‘President’s Session’ will also be re-introduced at this meeting and Professor Robert Fraser from Adelaide will be delivering his keynote address relating to his personal journey in spinal surgery from 1975 to 2015.  He is an extremely well regarded Australian spine surgeon, founding member of the Spine Society of Australia and past president.  His talk promises to be very informative and fascinating.  In an era of rapidly changing and improved techniques in the field of spinal surgery, I feel that remembering our subspecialty surgical history and acknowledging our predecessors’ hard work and innovation is incredibly important.  The ‘Society Session’ will include discussion about the pathway to the current PFET Programme and we are also very fortunate to have the Minister for Health, Peter Dutton attend and provide us with his insights into the future of health, particularly in regard to funding.

The meeting will also include ‘The Getting of Wisdom’ session with three experienced surgeon members sharing with us their past experiences and lessons learnt in our challenging speciality.  The call for abstracts for this meeting has now commenced and Associate Professor Richard Williams, as the scientific secretary will no doubt deliver another extremely successful scientific meeting and as always there will be a very enjoyable social programme for participants and partners.

Further information in regard to SSA membership and the next scientific meeting can be obtained on the Spine Society of Australia website; spinesociety.org.au and there will be links to the conference manager, DC Conferences

Neurosurgeon SSA member Dr Andrew Kam, based in Sydney is hoping to offer a pre-symposium on minimally invasive spine surgery (MISS) immediately prior to the SSA meeting and further details will be provided in forthcoming newsletters.


Spine Society of Australia New Website

As you would be aware, a new fresh website went live in June this year. This represented the culmination of much hard work over the years with the original website set up by past president Peter McCombe, then in response to increased expectations and demands relating to the website, it has been updated to its present form, principally driven by immediate past president Peter Wilde.  The company Light Media from Melbourne were contracted to facilitate the web page and I would encourage you all to keep in touch with the Society’s various activities including forthcoming meetings by visiting the website.  Go to ‘spinesociety.org.au’.  Peter is to be congratulated for his perseverance and hard work relating to our new website.


Spine Registry

There has been further progress in establishing Australia's first national spine outcomes registry. The SSA executive is fully committed to this project, and following review of various other registries around the world including the Canadian, British, Dutch and Swedish registries, it has been decided to adopt the KEOPS web based software program (Globus Medical, France). This program is reasonably intuitive and flexible allowing single practice private surgeons and larger units and organisations to collect and compare data. We are all well aware of the extremely successful and world leading AOA National Joint Replacement Registry. However there are various complex issues relating to a spine outcomes registry, including funding, legal privilege, data ownership and management. Government and/or Industry funding will be necessary. It is intended that participation of SSA members will be voluntary, and negotiations are taking place in regard to data management by Monash University. Michael Johnson has been extremely enthusiastic and productive in working towards the establishment of this registry. The main issue relates to the significant funding required to start up and then to efficiently run the Registry over the years.  There has been considerable interest from our Industry colleagues; it is expected that the establishment cost would be in the order of $250,000 with similar annual costs to fund the pilot registry of limited SSA member surgeons. It is intended that participation of SSA members will be voluntary and of course a significant benefit in joining and remaining an active member of the SSA will be access to this Registry, the first of its kind in Australia.


MBS Item Number Review

The SSA executive received initial communication from the Medicare Financing and Listing Branch, Department of Health (DOH) in late April about this issue. Nominations were sought for participation as a member of the Review Working Group (RWG) “for the review of spinal fusion–discectomy for back pain Medicare Benefits schedule (MBS) services being managed by the Department of Health".  There has been regular correspondence and discussion between SSA executive and DOH in regard to the purpose and planned scope of the review process; we noted that the initial MBS review document item numbers " MBS Data" were not fully representative of the practice of spinal surgery in Australia; some were obviously rarely used and likewise, other numbers allocated for artificial disc replacement, scoliosis and spinal trauma, for example, were not listed.

More recently, DOH has advised that a formal "re- scoping" of the review has been finalised. The review will now consider ALL MBS spinal surgery items. The stated aim of the review is “to assess whether current MBS spinal surgery items represent modern clinical practice, and whether some items need to be consolidated or  re-worded to remove ambiguity and clarify 'complete' medical services".

The stated aim is not unreasonable, but the SSA executive feels strongly that the review process be well-balanced in regard to surgeon–non surgeon make up of the panel, and that a comprehensive and accurate literature review be undertaken.

The SSA has nominated William (Bill) Sears, Sydney neurosurgeon, to be a member of the Review Working Group. Other SSA members Peter Wilde and Peter McCombe have kindly accepted nomination from ASOS and AOA respectively, and Graeme Brazenor, Melbourne neurosurgeon has accepted nomination from the College of Surgeons. Rob Kuru, our Secretary has subsequently been nominated as the AMA representative.

This obviously is an extremely important issue for our Society and its members, indeed for all practising spinal surgeons in Australia. Our Society is very willing to be involved in an advisory capacity in this process, which will probably be extremely time consuming and may take 18 months to two years to be completed.

The SSA executive has further discussed this issue at two face-to-face meetings and we have broad agreement in regard to our Society’s advice to DOH, once the formal review process commences.  A further meeting is planned for 31 January 2015 in Sydney and this will involve SSA, AOA and Neurosurgical Society of Australia (NSA) members.  The Government formal review process is extremely unlikely to commence before February/March 2015.

I will keep you informed in regard to further developments.



As you would be aware, Associate Professor Richard Williams has been heavily involved with the setting up of the combined neurosurgery/orthopaedic spinal surgery PFET programme in Australia.  The Spine Society of Australia with affiliation from the Australian Orthopaedic Association has now authorised accredited post Fellowship training centres and further information in regard to these programmes can be obtained by visiting the SSA website.


John O'Brien Historical Book Collection 


As has been indicated by Peter Wilde, at our last Annual General Meeting in April, Brisbane, this extremely valuable collection of books and texts has been transferred from Royal Adelaide Hospital (soon to be relocated) to the Royal Australian College of Surgeons at Spring Street, Melbourne.  Peter indicated in the last newsletter that a ‘John O’Brien Historic Oration’ is for consideration to be included in the Society session of our ASM in alternate years.


Nominations for SSA Committee Members

Nominations are now open for the following office bearers:

Membership committee chairman

Membership committee member


These positions are currently held by Michael Johnson and John Cunningham, who both would like to stand for re-election. The SSA executive fully supports them.

Anyone wishing to nominate or second a colleague for one of these positions should contact Robert Kuru (Secretary) and nominations are due by 31 March 2015.

Constitution; transfer of SSA to a company limited by guarantee

Rob Kuru is due to seek further legal advice in regard to this issue in the near future and further details can be obtained from the SSA website in early 2015


Kind Regards and Best Wishes for a Happy Christmas and New Year


Peter Woodland  

President, Spine Society of Australia

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