2015 December Newsletter

Dear SSA Members and Colleagues,

 As another year comes to an end, I would like to take the opportunity to update you all on our Society’s achievements for 2015. It has been a busy year for many members of the SSA.  In addition to planning for future meetings and participation in continuing education activities across Australia, there has been particular focus on significant new projects such as the establishment of the Australian Spine Registry (ASR) as well as ongoing involvement with the spinal surgery Medicare Benefits Schedule review, which will affect all orthopaedic and neurosurgeon spine surgeons for many years.

This year we were also extremely saddened by the loss of our two much loved and respected colleagues and friends; Geoff Coldham from Auckland passed away in July and Ian Torode, Melbourne in August.  Their achievements for our Society and their local communities have been enormous. They will both be very sadly missed and our Society is so much the richer for their wonderful professional contribution, friendship and mentorship.

Scientific Meetings

Our 27th Annual Scientific Meeting is to be held at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC), 8-10 April 2016.  The theme of the meeting is ‘New Technologies’. The keynote international speakers have been confirmed; Dr Richard Mannion, Neurosurgeon from Cambridge, UK is a highly regarded surgeon specialising in minimally invasive spinal surgery techniques. He has participated in MISS seminars and workshops around the world including Australia and he is expected to make a great contribution to our meeting.  Our second keynote international speaker is Professor Bobby (Kin-wah) Ng, Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and current President of the Hong Kong Orthopaedic Association.  Professor Ng has particular skills and experience in navigation imaging techniques in scoliosis surgery.  He was guest lecturer at the SSA organised Spine Day at the recent AOA ASM in October, Brisbane and he is a very informative, eloquent speaker.

The President’s Session keynote address will be delivered by Dr David Jaffray from Oswestry, UK.  David is well known to many of our members, some of whom have completed Fellowships in spinal surgery at Oswestry and will be familiar with David’s forthright views on many aspects of spinal surgery and cricket.  His address topic will be on, ‘Spinal fracture management’.

The Society Session will include discussion about evidence based medicine in spinal surgery, lead by Dr Ian Harris, current Scientific Secretary of the AOA.  There are plans for further discussion relating to billing guidelines and the MBS spinal surgery review.  As in previous years there will be a ‘Getting of Wisdom’ session with some experienced surgeon members sharing their past experiences and lessons learnt. Richard Williams, as Scientific Secretary will deliver his third scientific programme, which will include a range of clinical and research topics as well as instructional talks.  There will also be a very enjoyable social programme in beautiful Melbourne for participants and their partners.  Further details and up to date information can be obtained by accessing the SSA website or by contacting DC Conferences.  The 2017 meeting is planned to be held in Hobart.

Australian Spine Registry

This year some very important milestones were achieved in working towards the establishment of Australia’s first national spine outcomes registry.  Contracts have now been signed and executed between the Spine Society of Australia and SMAIO SARL, the developers and owners of the KEOPS software programme selected to be used for the Registry.  Contracts have also been signed by several device companies and we are extremely appreciative of the enthusiasm and financial support from our Industry colleagues, for the initial pilot registry.  The pilot will initially involve a limited number of surgeon participants, effectively functioning as a ‘proof of concept’ for a mature registry.  Detailed legal advice has been obtained from TressCox Lawyers and this has involved frequent communication with Mr Matthew Payne, Partner.  Domain names have also been secured and purchased.

 Michael Johnson continues to put an enormous effort into this project.  There have been some challenging issues along the way relating to data governance, administrative costs and some Industry participants’ desire for device surveillance data access.  However, progress is being made!

SSA Annual Seminars 

Dr Bill Sears, our Sydney neurosurgeon colleague has enthusiastically planned for the establishment of an annual seminar on clinical spinal biomechanics.  Our Society plans to hold annual symposia directed at both orthopaedic and neurosurgical trainees and also separately for SSA members.  The topics of these seminars will be in the fields of basic spinal science and other specific areas of surgery.  The seminars will of course compliment our formal Annual Scientific Meetings held in April each year. This is a very exciting endeavour and our Executive is extremely appreciative of Bill’s efforts.

The inaugural Biomechanics Seminar 2016 will be held on 27-28 May at the Novotel Resort, Barossa Valley, South Australia.  Sponsorship from LifeHealthcare has been confirmed and the appointed conference managers are DC Conferences.  The inaugural international guest speakers will include Professors Patwardhan and Wilke as well as many other expert research scientists and contributors. There will indeed be a wealth of knowledge to be passed on to us at this meeting.  The registration fee will be heavily subsidised.  Further details can be obtained by accessing the SSA website or by contacting DC Conferences.

MBS Item Number Review 

It is now over 18 months since the Department of Health, Medicare Financing and Listing Branch first contacted the Spine Society of Australia with an initial intended limited scope of review to be subsequently expanded to include all MBS spinal surgery items.  Since that time there has been a change of leadership in Federal politics including in the health ministry.  A whole of MBS review has been established, headed up by Professor Bruce Robinson.  Our Society has been assured by the Department of Health that there will be no deviation from the current spinal working party review process and there are no expectations for our specialised review to be overtaken or modified by any further reviews, e.g.: in the fields of orthopaedic surgery and neurosurgery.  We are also assured that any new system will be ‘cost neutral’.  The Department of Health obviously has much data on item number use across Australia and it is very aware of considerable variability of item number usage for various spinal surgery procedures.  An unambiguous item number system, which is equitable, fair and less prone to extreme variation in usage across Australia, is the main aim of this review.

As you would be aware, the Spine Society of Australia has been invited to form a working party from different subspecialty groups to consider and recommend a new schedule and fee structure.

The current members of the spinal surgery MBS working party are;

Chair: Michael Johnson (SSA),

Peter Wilde (ASOS/SSA)

Graeme Brazenor (RACS)

Rob Kuru (AMA)

Peter Turner (AOA)

Peter Woodland (SSA)

Bill Sears (SSA)

Andrew Kam (NSA)

Mark Davies (NSA)

Matthew McDonald (NSA)

Kathy Hill (AOA Advocacy & Governance Manager)

Stacie Gull (CEO NSA)

The working party most recently met in Melbourne, 5 December 2015.  The new schedule is now in advanced stages.  An entirely new schedule comprising seven sections has been proposed; the new system will include all spinal surgery item numbers listed together in the schedule, regardless of ‘neurosurgical’ or ‘orthopaedic’ surgery subspecialty status.

In some common procedures a proposed new structure and fee schedule will provide the status quo for at least 75% of providers and for other procedures providers will be better off.

As mentioned, in regard to ‘scientific meetings’, the new schedule will be explained and discussed at our next ASM, April 2016 in Melbourne.


The Post Fellowship Education Training programme in spinal surgery is now in operation across Australia. There has been a change in the governance of the PFET programme, whereby the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons has withdrawn its ‘service obligations’.  From a practical viewpoint this does not change the functioning of the PFET programme at all.  The Australian Orthopaedic Association in affiliation with the Spine Society of Australia, along with the Neurosurgical Society of Australasia accredits and administers the programme.  Further details of these programmes can be obtained by visiting the SSA website.

Nominations for SSA Committee Members

The following office bearers are due to be appointed at the Annual General Meeting in April 2016;

President Elect (on expiry of 2 year term for Bill Sears)

Editorial Secretary (on expiry of 3 year term for Richard Williams)

Secretary (on expiry of 3 year term for Rob Kuru)

Treasurer (on expiry of 3 year term for Justin Pik)

At the meeting in April, I step down as your President, to be replaced by Bill Sears. 

Anyone wishing to nominate or second a colleague for one of these positions should contact Rob Kuru, Secretary and nominations are due by 31 March 2016.

Constitution; transfer of SSA to a company limited by guarantee

I have to report that this issue is an ongoing saga.  At the Annual General Meeting, April 2015 in Canberra, a motion was successfully passed to amend our constitution so as to transfer to a company limited by guarantee. Prior to that meeting, legal advice had been obtained from Swaab Attorneys.  At the AGM the membership voiced some very reasonable concerns about aspects of the amended constitution including the titles and makeup of the Board of Directors (including president, vice president, immediate past president, secretary, treasurer, education secretary, membership committee chair and editorial secretary).  Hence further advice has been obtained from TressCox Lawyers who have considerable specialised experience in not for profit associations particularly relating to medical groups.  The Executive has since received very detailed advice, recommending that further specific amendments be made and voted upon in April 2016, Melbourne.  The law then dictates that the completed transfer process requires a company to have its first AGM in the calendar year of its registration and that the transfer process must be completed within three months of consent being given by the South Australian regulator.  Therefore we must again vote upon the amended constitution and then hold the first AGM of the new company before 31 December 2016. 

As mentioned under ‘SSA Annual Seminars’, it is somewhat fortuitous that an inaugural biomechanics seminar 2016 is to be held on 27, 28 May in Barossa Valley, South Australia.  Therefore to avoid holding a very inconvenient extraordinary AGM, Executive suggests that SSA members should make every effort to attend in May to hold our first Company AGM.

This all sounds extremely cumbersome but unfortunately necessary!

Spine Society of Australia Endorsements

On our new SSA website, Peter Wilde has created and is managing an  ‘endorsements’ section.  Our Society is frequently approached by other organisations and individuals seeking support and endorsement for their various activities.  Requests are often made to gain access to the SSA membership database, which we will not release.  However, on viewing the SSA web page any new endorsements of meetings and activities can be found.  Please also find attached below a research survey application requested by Dr P Damodaran, Spine Fellow at St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne.  SSA members are encouraged to visit the link to the Survey Monkey questionnaire relating to use of image guidance for spinal surgery in Australia. The link is https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/KCN6Y6T.

Thank you for taking the time to read through this update and I would like to wish you and your families a much deserved, relaxed and enjoyable Christmas holiday break.


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

Peter Woodland  


Spine Society of Australia

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