11 April 2010

Playing games with health

The Prime Minister seems to have discovered $500 million of spare cash, which incidentally belongs to us, and which he is going to spend over the next four years on cutting waiting times in hospital emergency rooms – see for example Josh Gordon (here) in today’s edition of The Age, under the headline Rudd dangles ‘slashed waiting times’ carrot:

Emergency department patients would have to wait no longer than four hours under a $500 million federal government sweetener to persuade the states to sign up to the controversial federal hospital takeover.

But the cash, to be spread over four years, will only be delivered if state premiers agree to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's new funding model at the next Council of Australian Governments meeting on April 19.

Mr Rudd will warn today that almost one in three patients, equivalent to about 600,000 people a year, are waiting longer than eight hours in emergency before being admitted to hospital...

My comments:

(1)    That is not a misprint. The Prime Minister will only act to rectify this appalling situation if he gets his way.

(2)    If one third of patients presenting to hospital emergency rooms are waiting more than eight hours to be admitted to hospital, and all that is required to solve the problem is an injection of cash (which it is now acknowledged is available), it is outrageous to make solving the problem contingent upon the states agreeing to the Prime Minister’s bid to centralise power over the hospital system. People will die while this political arm wrestle goes on.

(3)    If it can wait eight hours (or even four, the time to which the Prime Minister is proposing to cut it) it is not an emergency, and if it is an emergency it should not be left for eight hours.

(4)    Of all of the relevant powerholders in our powerholder-rich hospital and medical system, who knew about this situation, when did they know it, and what have they done or sought to do about it?

(5)    I am by no means a critic of the government’s handling of Australia’s response to the Global Financial Crisis, far from it, but while we were in the business of handing out cash to stimulate the economy and maintain employment, why wasn’t the opportunity taken to address some of these sorts of issues? A high proportion of the expenditure would have flowed as income to ordinary Australians.   

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