Sunday, July 30, 2006

Crisis Mismanagement

In recent weeks, the absence of further major meltdowns in the Queensland hospital system has driven the state's health care crisis off the front pages.

But the crisis continues at a personal level for those unfortunate enough to need surgery in the 'Smart State'.

Just last night, Nora and I asked after the nephew of a friend who had been ill the previous weekend. Turned out the poor kid had had appendicitis but that was only where his troubles began.

The youngster was taken to a general doctor's surgery on the Gold Coast - Australia's sixth largest city - at 3pm where the GP said it was likely to be appendicitis and the child should be taken to a hospital immediately.

There should have been no problems because the family has insurance but when they fronted at a Gold Coast private hospital and the diagnosis was confirmed, they were told the city only had two pediatric surgeons shared between private and public hospitals alike and they'd already done their alloted 50 hours of ops each for that week.

The hospital sent the kid by ambulance to a major Brisbane children's hospital where they had a surgeon who could operate - but they didn't have any spare beds.

They passed him off to a Brisbane private hospital - but made him go by private car because they couldn't spare an ambulance - and the youngster finally went under the knife at 10pm.

It took seven hours to do something that should have been happening in two.

And to add rip-off to injury, at every step of the way - from doctor to three separate hospitals - each billed to diagnose his appendicitis, undoubtedly passing on various duplicated charges to federally-run Medicare.

Nora and I tut-tutted over the scandalous lack of service and were immediately told that a teacher of our friend's daughter had presented at the Gold Coast's main public hospital, also with appendicitis, a few weeks ago. In fact, the woman's condition was so advanced, her appendix had burst and she was rushed to surgery.

But before she could go under, she was taken back out to a ward and left to wait because another emergency had come in - a cop with severe facial injuries and the two crims he'd shot - and the hospital didn't have the capacity to cope.

Yet State Premier Peter Beattie, who has presided over the collapse of the system, tells us the health crisis is on the mend. It's about as mended as the state's water crisis which suffered a further setback last night when the people of the city of Toowoomba voted no to drinking recycled water.

Beattie is to go ahead with a state referendum on the issue anyway. He - and politicians of all persuasions - are now paying the long term price for short term political expediency in putting off the building of new dams so as not to lose votes.

Premier Pete is one of the country's most successful premiers but he must be having nightmares about how the next election is going to play out.

He could wait until next year but it's more likely he'll go to polls early, perhaps even as early as September.

In fact, September would be good - it gets it over with before summer comes along and high power demands trigger the annual power crisis.

-- Nick

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