Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hospitals Full, Go To Queensland.

The story of a badly injured road accident victim being airlifted to Queensland for treatment is the most graphic indication yet that the New South Wales public hospital system is at the point of collapse. In fact, this is a level of failure which would seem to indicate that it has already collapsed. Either the New South Wales health system can treat its own citizens, or it can’t. And in this case it didn’t.

It has been reported that 56 year old Georgie Batterson waited at Kempsey for two hours in pain while the trauma doctor from the Westpac Helicopter Rescue Service desperately rang hospitals in Sydney and Newcastle. He was told that there was not one single intensive care bed available. Not anywhere. So the decision was made to take her to Southport in Queensland.

There is no excuse for this to happen in a major industrialized nation in the 21st century. It is the result of two decades of flawed policy, bad management, and denial. For too long, successive governments believed the misguided arguments that modern medicine meant shorter hospital stays and fewer beds. They believed that efficiency meant that getting patients out of hospital was more important than getting them well. But worst of all, when it became obvious that the policies were wrong, they still continued to close down hospital beds in the name of cutting costs.

It’s not just that hospitals are underfunded. In fact, massive amounts of money are spent on hospitals and health, but the problem is that too much of it is badly spent. There is too much bureaucracy, and the massive Area Health Services don’t deliver better outcomes, only more paper work. Emergency departments are under stress not because there are too many patients, but because patients who are seen can’t be admitted to hospital beds.

Rather than setting benchmarks, meeting targets, cutting costs, and delivering efficiency dividends, the real business of Public Hospitals is supposed to be about treating patients. To do that they need to have beds. There is no shortcut for that. And yet after all this it appears that the New South Wales Government still doesn’t get the point. After all this, they are still closing wards and cutting beds.

The dedicated and hardworking doctors and nurses in our public hospitals are doing the very best they can while working within a system which is letting them down. It is only through their heroic efforts that the system works at all. But the truth is that they are expected to meet those benchmarks and reach those targets without being given the tools to do so. That amounts to a form of torture which is both cruel to them, and unfair to the patients who depend on them.

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