Hospital Crisis is just part of the story.
6 November 2023
The hospital crisis is partly because General Practice has been so downgraded that more cases go to hospital than need to. The Federal government starving Medicare has a number of consequences:
Many GPs are simply retiring and there are no enough new ones taking their place, so we are getting towards a serious shortage
GPs cannot survive on the Medicare rebate, so now charge a co-payment.
Since Emergency departments are free, people wait until the situation gets worse then go there.
Emergency Depts are about 6 times the cost of GP visits, so the total cost of the Health Care system rises.
The other part of the Federal government starving Medicare is that the State governments pay for the emergency departments, so it is a case of the Federal government saving money by making it a lot more difficult for the States.
But an overriding fact is that Australia has been convinced by the neo-liberals that tax is a bad thing and government spending must be a small percentage of GDP. Currently this is about 38.4% of GDP, slightly less than the USA, which has very poor welfare and health systems. This means that the governments cannot actually afford to do anything, and behave like a corporation, cutting employee wages and making cuts wherever it thinks no one will notice, or it has the power to do so. Now if Labor ever tries to raise taxes, the Liberals, who are great exponents of small government accuse Labor of being ‘tax and spend’, and Labor, rather than have a serious debate merely retreats. The fact that he Scandinavian countries have government as close to half of GDP and have their citizens much better off never gets mentioned. Denmark is at 49.9%, Germany 49%, Finland 54% and France at 54%. The UK is at 45%.
We now have a failing GP sector, a problem in aged care, a shortage of nurses, paramedics on strike, a hollowed out public service that merely awards its former tasks to private sector operators that it cannot even monitor and Australia falling down the World educational standards table is not a coincidence. The governments have a virtual monopoly of these jobs. They have deliberately let wages fall, so that now people simply will not do them.
We need to stop privatising, rebuild that public sector so that it can deliver services that we need. Profit is merely another unnecessary overhead. We need to decide what needs to be done, and raise enough tax to pay the people to stay in their public service jobs. Education, health and aged care do not need a ‘market’ to function/. If one exists for comparison purposes, that is fine, but there is no actual virtue in having most of the services delivered by corporations that have the choice of good service or good profits. It is a con, and it is time we forced the government to give us Medicare and a health system that actually works for all, and education for all.
Here is a letter from my Medical partner in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.
The horror stories now emerging about overloaded public hospitals, ambulances and emergency departments comes as no surprise to anyone following the downgrading of Medicare to a ‘‘mixed billing’’ system. This has made it unaffordable for many people to see a GP. But the real cost of turning Medicare into a two-tier system has been to the public hospital system. The only winners are private corporations, private hospitals, private health insurance funds and their many lobbyists in Canberra. We are going the way of the US, and if people don’t fight for Medicare, we are all doomed.
Con Costa, Hurlstone Park:
Here is today’s Herald Editorial
Health system needs its own emergency care
The state of health of the health system has dominated the lives of Australians for four years, but it has never been in such need of urgent care. Indicative of how working conditions for frontline healthcare workers have deteriorated, people now spend a median of three hours and 36 minutes in NSW hospital emergency departments, the longest wait ever. It’s little wonder that health workers are suffering burnout, stress and bullying and are leaving the industry in record numbers.
The COVID-19 pandemic sharpened awareness of our vulnerabilities and forced extra spending on hospitals, clinical responses, vaccinations and prevention measures.
And when we emerged from the pandemic’s worst days it became evident the health system too was experiencing difficulty recovering from years of stress. It had been deteriorating for a long time already, but post-pandemic we became uncomfortably aware that ambulances were queueing for hours to offload emergency patients and hospitals were under enormous pressure with lengthy wait times in emergency and admission.
GPs bumped up fees, forcing people who could not afford the $11-a-visit hike into hospital emergency departments. The industry is being further destabilised by the exodus of 6500 nurses and midwives a year.
If anything, the situation is worse outside the big cities. Last year, for instance, five deaths in regional hospitals could potentially have been prevented, but not in an overworked hospital system with staff shortages that make mistakes even more likely. The NSW parliament’s health portfolio committee report on rural, regional and remote health 18 months ago found a ‘‘culture of fear’’ which did not encourage or value feedback and complaints. Some workers say they were even punished for making complaints.
Now an investigation by the Herald has revealed a health system sinking further into crisis. Eight nurses and midwives have taken their lives in the past three years, while nearly 2000 NSW Health workers have lodged compensation claims for psychological injuries over the past two years. More than 33,500 NSW Health employees have also claimed they are burnt out, while 21,000 workers say they have witnessed bullying in the workplace. One in 12 ambulance employees hold a compensation claim for a psychological injury.
Experts and unions warn that the data, drawn from documents obtained exclusively under freedom of information laws and the state government’s recently released annual employee survey, People Matter, shows a workplace struggling with staff mental health concerns.
Further illustrating the stress, NSW Ambulance fielded a record 363,251 calls and fired up the lights and sirens for more than 181,000 emergency call-outs between July and September, the most of any three-month period since the Bureau of Health Information began taking records in 2010.
Money seems to be the root cause of health’s problems. Today’s national cabinet meeting will address the rampant cost blowouts in the NDIS and Canberra wants the states to take responsibility for funding treatments. On Friday, Premier Chris Minns and Treasurer Daniel Mookhey meet the Health Services Union over a protracted pay dispute threatening to collapse the NSW triple zero call system on New Year’s Eve. Minns said the money is not available.
The future funding and structure of our health systems concerns us all. It is an area where the federal and state governments share responsibility. The solution to the healthcare crisis is complex and will take time, but it is an area where increased funding must be found.
That clearly calls for a better national approach and the states responding with an end to parochial wheelbarrowpushing and finger-pointing.