Doctor and activist


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Category: Health

Privatised Job Services- Guess who benefits?

21 July 2021

Privatisation of job services was based on the concept that competition improves performances; hey we all run faster in a race than on a jog.

It takes the simple model and assumes that public servants do not work as hard as the lean, mean private sector workers.

I  have worked in the public service here and the UK for some years. I defy anyone to say that salaried doctors do not work hard.  How does a basic 60 hours a week, with a few hours of unpaid overtime a day and on call one night in two for ICU or ED sound?

I was at Sydney Water for 13 years.  The clerical staff worked their 35 hours, but the professional staff were mainly there until 6pm, despite only being paid to 3.30pm. The clerks knew their jobs and did their jobs.  They thought about their work, prioritised the important things and did them.  Their jobs were safe, they were honest, and criticism of them was frankly misplaced.  So was the idea that a ‘blow-in’ manager could do their jobs better than they could.

The assumption of privatisation of job seeking is that contractors would do better than the CES. The Key Performance Indicators were set up so that they go paid less for people who were easier to place and more for those who were hard to place.  So it was presumably staffed as cheaply as possible, and the business model concentrated effort where the most money could be had for the least work.  People who would have got a job without the providers help at all were money for jam.  People who were very difficult to place were not worth spending time on. So instead of an ongoing effort to help people in whatever way possible there were distorting priorities- what do you expect?  In this case you get what you pay for.

There was a similar nonsense when there was a privatised effort to lower unemployment, which was in the mid-1990s.  This drive did not come with any more jobs, so the best hope was reclassification of people who were not working. Many people were sent to me as a doctor to fill in their Disability Pension forms, as the private sector were given bonuses to get people off the dole and putting them disability pension qualified as this.  And they think that the public service does paper shuffling- they are amateurs!

After they had expanded the Disability Pension numbers a few years went by and Morrison decided that there were too may people on this, so he would make it tougher to get.  He boasted that only a third as many people were put on the disability pension in one year than had been the case the year before. I knew some of the people who could not get the disability pension.  There were not enough jobs for healthy people, let alone unhealthy ones. They were demeaned and humiliated, with supposed ‘mutual obligations’.  They had to waste their time writing job applications for jobs that they had no chance of getting, and presumably the bosses wasted time either reading them, or just binning then without bothering. 

When NSW passed legislation that Workers Compensation would only be for 5 years and then they would have to apply for a disability pension the object was to transfer the costs of injured workers from the State insurers’ premiums to the federal taxpayer.  Centrelink was having none of that. Of the people kicked off Workers Comp, only about a third managed to get a disability pension; the rest were on ‘Newstart’ applying for jobs that they had no chance of getting and on far less money than before.  Patients came to me asking for ever more elaborate reports to try to get disability pensions when they needed them.

One man, a 61 year old Middle Eastern man who had been on compo for 13 years and was carer for his disabled wife could not get a disability pension.  He had chronic back pain and a limp. His English was poor, he was illiterate in English (and possibly Arabic) with a file two inches thick.  I spent a lot of time writing a report for him.  Centrelink thanked me but said they could only pay a small amount for such reports.  So I will not do such reports again, and presumably neither will any of the other doctors- we cannot afford to work for free to fight a system with a different agenda.

Meanwhile the private providers are cream-skimming, adding another layer of costs.  Because a market system transfers money upwards to those with more economic power who can control their pieces and costs, a government and a welfare system needs to transfer wealth both to everyone in society equally by building facilities everyone can use or by direct payments to those who are unable to get jobs or who are otherwise disadvantaged.

The problem is that jobs are being offshored to low wage countries or replaced by technology.  This is national problem for high income countries.  It is a problem for the whole country, but it affects some people directly.  We are all lucky that our dollar is high and our goods cheaper because low wage countries make things cheaper. So we all should contribute to make our own country more equal.

Until we demand a fair system we will not get one.  Stopping rip offs, and paying CES people a fair wage to do a fair job is a start.

https://theconversation.com/the-problem-with-employment-services-providers-profit-more-than-job-seekers-162421?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20July%2021%202021%20-%202008419727&utm_content=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20July%2021%202021%20-%202008419727+CID_fbb8f126a3150e0c593a044f9ebff43b&utm_source=campaign_monitor&utm_term=The%20problem%20with%20employment%20services%20providers%20profit%20more%20than%20job%20seekers
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Is There a Role for the Military in Vaccination?

10 July 2021

I felt that something was wrong when a Soldier started advising me about vaccinations.

Here is a good summary from Crikey of what seems to be happening. 

www.crikey.com.au/2021/07/07/administration-with-authority-how-putting-the-vaccine-rollout-in-military-hands-is-corrosive-for-the-country/?utm_campaign=Weekender&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wkndr=RFdETTg0am9ucG5qc2dpcVpTeTU2QT09&success=krsmvj

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NDIS Individual Assessments; A Symptom of a Wider Problem

10 July 2021

The current issue in the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) is the government’s efforts to introduce ‘independent assessments’ of people on the scheme and those who want to get on the scheme.  The idea has been abandoned for the present, but that is not the end of the story. It is the beginning.

Some context is needed here.  I was on a State Parliamentary inquiry into disability funding during which we heard evidence of inefficiencies within the disability sector where often there were shortages of appropriate services, and in some areas there were none at all.  The real crunch time was when parents with children with disabilities realised that they were going to die eventually and wanted to make a plan for the rest of their child’s life.  People would apply at various facilities, and be turned away as there were no places.  They then assumed that they were on a waiting list, but usually no lists were kept. When a vacancy occurred, whoever applied at that time got it.  It was mainly luck.  Naturally the people trying to help their loved one wanted a guaranteed package that would continue after their death.  More articulate parents and carers, who had struggled for years just wanted the money to buy the services that they felt that they needed. Many carers simply wanted more services, and hoped that a national system that guaranteed services for disability.  

Given the political context of privatisation and reducing government involvement in everything, the scene was set to have disability services delivered by the private sector as a massive market for services.   The private sector naturally wanted to get access to services that had been provided by government as a source of business and profit.

Government also had a real estate agenda.  Some large institutions were on valuable land. The large facilities at Peat Island in the Hawkesbury and Stockton Disability Centre was on beachfront land just north of Newcastle.  There was a residence for the grossly disabled opposite Wollongong Hospital that had taken years of fundraising for the parents to achieve.   These could be sold off as the mental health facilities had been a few decades earlier, with the catchy slogan of putting the residents ‘back in the community’. The idea that the residents were better off isolated in a suburban homes with few facilities rather than in a community of people with the same problem and a well-structured programme of activities seemed a dubious proposition to me.  Resident groups such as the relatives of long-term psychiatric facilities at Bloomfield in Orange were very scared of the suggested changes.  There had been problems with the old system and some inappropriate facilities, but an overall lack of facilities was the major problem.  It was not even throwing the baby out with the bathwater; it seemed more like smoke and mirrors. 

The key question in dealing with any problem is how big a task is it?  When the Committee asked how many people with disabilities there were, there was no answer.  No register was kept.  The two ways of calculating it were:

  1. To add up all the people on all the types of possible benefits and get to a total. 
  2. To look at the AIHW (Aust. Institute of Health and Welfare) figures of what percentage of the population was disabled, then multiply this by the total population. 

The latter method gave figures about ten times greater.  So clearly if help or services were made more available, the numbers involved were going to blow out hugely from what was currently funded.

John Howard passed the Aged Care Act in 1998, which was the blueprint for the privatisation of the sector. Old people are very vulnerable. They have often sold the family home, so they are temporarily cashed up, looking for accommodation and long term care with mental and physical facilities failing, or they would not be there.  Carers faced with responsibilities that they were not used to and uncertain of what care was needed were easy pickings also.  The whole sector is more like a dysfunctional real estate market; a market failure due to insufficient ‘consumer information’, but also distorted incentives and priorities.

The NDIS was similar.  Private operators with slick marketing made promises which would not be tested for some time, but people were signed up now.  The not-for profit sector had never paid staff well, but most had a ‘care ethos’.  Some of the private providers did not, and regulatory supervision was minimal. The government was pro-business and trying to give away responsibility. 

But an absolute shortage of services was still a big factor.  A neighbour who was a 95 year old retired academic widower wanted 2 hours a week of home help.  For some reason he could not get a community nurse.   The best deal he could get was 2 sessions of 2 hours at $65 an hour.  The lady delivering the service was paid $21/hr.  So much for private services; the ‘overheads’ are huge.  I had suggested to Kevin Rudd’s 2020 Vision in 2000 that the Government needed to licence service providers as individuals if they wanted a market model, and our neighbour could have selected a person on a one to one basis.  (I never even got an acknowledgement).

Now the government wants ‘independent assessors’ to evaluate cases, presumably to lessen costs.  A number of points can be made about this.  It assumes that the assessors will learn more about the patient in an interview than the people who work with them already know.  The new management philosophy since the 1980s always assumes that a manager at the top will know more than the person actually doing the job.  Naturally if the object is to save money and have the person at the bottom paid minimally, requiring no skills and interchangeable in staffing, this may be true.  But if the people at the bottom were respected, trained and empowered, the need for the middle level experts might be much less.

‘Independent Medical expert’ assessors are used in the Workers Compensation and CTP systems.  They work for agencies hired by insurance companies.  Often they find the patients either have nothing wrong with them, or it is degenerative and not related to their injury.  These experts are even flown from interstate and save insurers money by denying treatments. Presumably if they find in favour of the patients, their agency gives them less work.  The agency takes its cut and has to please the insurer.  So the systems are more complicated and an ever higher percentage of the money is spent in trying not to give services.  The NZ National Accident Compensation scheme, though it was government owned, went to a private insurance model and the same thing happened.  Doctors who had a track record of denying liability were flown around the country to do their medicals.

The assumption may still be that well intentioned assessors still can do better.  My widowed mother lived alone in the family home and had a stroke.  A neighbour noticed her confused, walking on the balcony.  She recovered, but seemed to have lost some judgement.  She was assessed by an ACAT (Aged Care Assessment Team) who said that she could live alone in supported accommodation. So we got her into a unit in the grounds of an old house, where she could book a dinner at a days’ notice in the communal dining room, have a nurse onsite during the day, and had a right to a nursing home bed if she ever needed one.  Seemed perfect.  She said that she could look after herself. Can you microwave a dinner?  Yes. OK. Do it.  It got done.  No problem. Dinners in the frig. Sweets in the jar on the mantelpiece; see you in 2 days.  Arrive in 2 days.  Dinners still in the frig. Lolly jar empty. Very hungry- can we go to lunch?  She could do anything when asked, but could not initiate a process. She could not think to get a dinner from the frig, or book lunch tomorrow in the communal dining room, nor ask for help.  The one-off team could not pick this.  Neither did the family. But it emerged when the situation at home was known. This is just a story, but a carer who is savvy and properly trained will know more than a university-qualified assessor who has only a short knowledge of the patient.  And naturally the person on the job actually delivers the service and is not an extra cost. They can also judge relative needs of people on a run or in an area if resources are limited.

So the scheme to bring in assessors is the tip of an iceberg. 

Private insurance models have huge problems at many levels.  The overheads of Medicare are a bit under 5%. The overheads of Private Health Insurers are about 12%, and they cannot refuse to pay doctors.  The overheads of US Health insurers are about 12-36%, as the best way to improve profits is to cut costs (payments to patients) rather than increase services and then try to prove you have and sell on that basis.  At the bottom of the efficiency barrel is our own NSW CTP system with overheads of almost 50%. The question has to be what is the focus of the system?  Delivering services, or saving money?  The US health insurers, like our CTP scheme are very good at making money.  What they make their money from just happens to be people rather than widgets.  The main cost savings of privatisation seems to be destroying award conditions and lowering ‘staff costs’.  The immense administrative savings from universal systems, where determining entitlement and paying for profits are eliminated cannot be matched by any private system, despite what the ideologues might pretend.

The NDIS is currently a fund supposedly to help people with disabilities.  These people apply to get ‘packages’ of money and services.  Businesses persuade people to spend their packages with them. It is a market.  But there are more people with disabilities than was expected, for the reasons discussed above.  So a new level of assessors, were to be rolled in, but a huge outcry has prevented this temporarily.  But the problems that led to the need for the assessors remain implicit in the design of the NDIS, which is fatally flawed.  The government, particularly this one, is not going to take this very large bag of lollies from the private sector.  The totally inefficient Private Health Insurers (PHI) give money to political parties and advance by stealth, letting Medicare become irrelevant for health care. Disability is now also privatised, and a new private lobby is in there.  It has not yet generated a Royal Commission into its rip-offs, but it will, not that the Aged Care Royal Commission has stopped the privatisation of aged care.  The political forces are too great.  It is ironic that as Medicare is starved and pays less and less of the doctors’ fees its levy was increased, using a wave of sympathy for people with disabilities to make a bigger pool of money for increasingly private disability providers.

How to fix the problem?

I do not pretend to have all wisdom on this, but in dealing with difficult political problems I think it is wise to set a direction, take some basic steps and consult widely, looking for advice particularly from those who do not get an immediate financial benefit.

Here is a start:

Recognise that disability is not a sickness.  Some disabilities are inherited; others are acquired due to accident, illness or aging. The sector is quite diverse, often divided up by the type of disability or how it was acquired.   Sickness has an ‘episode’ model, based on traditional infectious diseases or surgical treatment models. Disability tends to be long-term and may improve or be worked around, or may degenerate gradually. As such it needs long-term solutions like welfare, but using the term ‘welfare’ now implies charity. Disability funding is funding to enable those less fortunate to have as normal a life as possible. From our common wealth, we give more to those who need more so that our society has equal opportunity for all. We are being taught that tax must be minimised and if we are getting less than we pay we are being ripped off.  A better model is to consider the statement by Rhonda Galbally, ex-CEO of VicHealth, ‘There are two populations, the disabled and the not-yet disabled; if you are lucky enough to be in the second group, you should be happy to help pay for the first’.

The idea of a universal service obligation is the cornerstone.  We should start with the assumption that people with disabilities should live in our  society with as  normal a life as possible and we should adapt to support them in as cost-effective way as possible. 

My suggestion is that the Community Nursing service is the basic structural framework.  We assume that people with disabilities will be living in society, and need varied and integrated support.  If they are born with a disability or acquire one, they will come in contact with the acute hospital system, which will hopefully document their situation and alert the community support system.  People on the ground will then liaise with family to see what support there is for independent living, and organise resources, calling in specialists of required. The cost of home support may be part of a package or allowance.  Individuals may register to offer services for everything from shopping, cleaning and lawn mowing to medical or paraplegic support services.  The government will register and insure both practitioners and those who use their services and may put training requirements on those who wish to register for some skills.  A market with consumer feedback as exists for restaurants or other practitioners will allow people to hire help directly without big corporations adding massive overheads.

Whether the monies are paid separately of via Centrelink is an administrative question, but Centrelink has to have a major makeover so that it is not the niggardly decider of the ‘worthy poor’ with its chief function being to avoid paying anyone, or paying as little as possible.  If society cannot find everyone employment, we must share what we have to those who are disadvantaged by disability or circumstance. This will collide head on with the problem of increased numbers of those with disabilities, but the extra load must be seen as part of having a decent society. 

The way we are going seems to be privatising, allowing huge profits, then running out of money and shutting the gate on those who do not yet have packages.   The independent assessors were merely the instruments of Managers who were not able to make their own assessments and did not trust the people who actually deliver the services.  The assessor problem was the tip of the iceberg of a system that has all its underlying assumptions wrong, but sadly has a lot of  political power that having been created, may not be able to be undone.  The first step is to understand what is happening.  Hence this lengthy post.

www.abc.net.au/news/2021-07-09/ndis-disability-independent-assessments-model-dead-after-meeting/100277324

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COVID19 Vaccines Reduce Transmission

9 July 2021

www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/clinical/mounting-evidence-suggests-covid-vaccines-do-reduc?fbclid=IwAR0HwSRf56I6awyVZfsN1O-CbCjeOHJWZk9PwxbgJE_L2V9TwRJPxalSLu8

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NSW Govt tries to Blame Limousine Driver for New Sydney COVID Outbreak

26 June 2021

The pathetic efforts of Gladys Berejeklian to blame the limousine driver for the latest COVID outbreak, which has now caused a city-wide lockdown and an increasing number of cases needs to be judged on its demerits.  Obviously there should have been regulations that anyone on the front line had to be vaccinated, and surely driving a limo from the airport to the quarantine hotel is ‘front line’. 

She said that she ‘could not control the subcontractor of the subcontractor.’  Actually, she could have. Now she has the regulation that she should have had months ago- front line staff have to be vaccinated.

Of course, the reason for the spread of the virus from the Melbourne quarantine hotels months ago was the fact that the support staff had many jobs, because they were not permanent and had shifts everywhere.  The same problem occurred with transmission in Victorian Nursing homes- casual shifts.  Now it is Sydney drivers. 

The farmers are moaning that they will not be able to pick the fruit without the visas for backpackers, foreign students and Pacific Islanders.  Skilled migrants?  I do not think so.  It is about sub award wages and poor conditions.  If Australia is a rich country we need also to remember our roots as the country of a ‘fair go’. If top wage are high by world standards, so they should be at the bottom. If wages were high enough Aussies would pick the fruit, and  cleaners and limousine drivers would have regular jobs and award wages.

But here was the NSW Government trying to blame the limo driver for the outbreak.  But today’s Sun Herald has the Police Commissioner saying that the driver had committed no crime.   Neither has the NSW Government- they are just incompetent, but no one seems to blame them.

www.abc.net.au/news/2021-06-17/nsw-quarantine-worker-may-have-breached-health-order/100223120

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NDIS= Privatisation of Welfare

10 June 2021

It seems that the most sacred duty of corporations is to make as much profit as possible in the framework that they are in. So unless the framework restricts what they can charge and make, why would anyone expect them to behave differently?


It seems that the ‘not-for-profit’ sector is drawing from the same managerial pool, with the same ethos and expensive tastes.


My view is that a strong home support system with community nurses as its major foot-soldiers would be in the best position to assess need and relative need and bring in extra services as required.


The current top-heavy, privatised, hands-off NDIS model with ‘experts’ who do not know the people dropped in a short notice to dispense individualised packages rather than an overall programme is a sure recipe for rip-offs or resource misallocation.


Expect more examples of rip-offs until the model is changed.

www.abc.net.au/news/2021-06-10/is-ndis-provider-putting-growth-above-disability-care/100199988

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CTP Insurers Pay 6.3% of Premiums to Injured People. They keep the rest.

28 May 2021

This is a huge corporate scam. Why do people think that only little people are rip-off scammers? Also the idea that most people claims are ‘accepted’ is a nonsense. Insurers accept the claim, which means that they pay for a few GP visits and some physio. But they refuse to pay for scans that might find diagnoses. Then they refuse to pay for referrals to specialists who might need to operate. Then they refuse to pay for recommended operations. Then they use tame doctors (IMEs = Independent Medical Examiners) who either say that the condition does not need the treatment or that the problem was there before the accident so the insurer is not liable.

So the government introduced the PIC (Personal Injury Commission) to arbitrate all the claims that the insurers had refused. Now the waiting time for the PIC is over a year, which suits the insurers fine as the doctors and patients will use Medicare or private heath insurance to get the treatments and the insurers will either pay less or not have to pay at all.

If you thought the banks were bad, you have not dealt with insurers. NRMA refuses a considerably higher percentage of treatments than anyone else in my statistics, and SIRA declines to keep statistics on the ‘industry’ as a whole, and no insurer has ever been prosecuted for refusing a treatment.

This is why we need Medicare- a single, just, efficient, universal health insurance scheme.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sp8R856f7cM

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iCare= Hopeless in Two Reports but the Bad Joke Continues

30 April 2021

Two reports on iCare have come out on the same day- how convenient, one lot of publicity rather than two.The report of the Parliamentary Committee was one report, the other was a report by Robert McDougall, a retired Supreme Court judge.The political report looked at the disgraceful evidence given by John Nagle which showed almost no care for the injured workers and an appalling attitude of entitlement in him and his crony staff. iCare had not even known what workers’ Pre-Injury Average Weekly Earnings (PIAWE) were, and had not tried very hard to find out so that they could underpay them and minimise their costs. They relied on computer algorithms rather than staff to manage the claims, only getting staff on the case if there were problems, which there usually were, as the poor patients were having their treatments delayed or denied.
The McDougall report had its terms of reference set by Treasury, who were also the department being investigated, and they also staffed the inquiry. The Treasurer, Dominic Perrottet did not agree to be interviewed by McDougall and got away with this. Is this some sort of bad joke? The McDougall report found incompetence etc, but no actual corruption that anyone could be charged with. As such, the McDougall report was a political success. It took the heat off the Treasurer from November to now, and will result in a bit of publicity, no serious recriminations and the usual promises of future action. John Robertson, an old union hack is the new CEO, so Labor will not criticise iCare now.
My poor patients will be mucked around, be underpaid and have their treatment denied as usual. And Treasurer Perrottet will sail on hoping to be Premier as Gladys falls. What a joke!


www.abc.net.au/news/2021-04-30/damning-reports-released-over-nsw-icare/100107076?fbclid=IwAR34I_blTADSxa2OoWxrzOpvgNPZ3KUFmhQmpSFZHd4LSOIVdof0nx8yMGs

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Clotting Risk from Vaccines and COVID19 Infection

28 April 2021

A new Oxford Study compares the incidence of Cerebral Venous Thrombosis with the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccine and the risk if you get COVID19. The risk from the A-Z vaccine is 5 per million, the Pfizer and Moderna 4 per million and the risk if you catch COVID19 is 39 per million. The sample size is large with over half a million cases in each group, so the reliability of the research is quite good.While there is no COVID19 about, it is obviously safer to have no vaccine and no risk, but the COVID19 situation could change at any time. The Business Council and other non-medical political groups are calling for a more open society and for the case chasers to try to keep a certain level of infections once the gates are opened. i.e. We get the money- someone else fix the problems. Presumably they will try to stop further lockdowns, particularly as the percentage of the population who have been vaccinated increases.The bottom line is that the A-Z vaccine is almost as safe as the Pfizer one, and it is a good idea to be vaccinated ASAP in case the situation changes for the worse. I had the A-Z almost 2 weeks ago and only noted a slight headache, and tiredness on the evening of the vaccine, and a bit of local tenderness at the injection site the next day. I will have the second shot in 10 weeks.

www.ox.ac.uk/news/2021-04-15-risk-rare-blood-clotting-higher-covid-19-vaccines-0?fbclid=IwAR2TIjtz8C7ku_M1OXcELaa2BfrC4hBTwBSoD_svCfdhwWQORr6K4sx4BOI

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