34. DEALING WITH HEALTH CARE PROBLEMS IN AUSTRALIA

While some people sweat out the situation of unemployment in their chosen field, which may or may not lead to eventual re-employment, the health industry is begging for more workers.   Let me expand on this.

Australians are lucky to have the best medical care in the world.  We are spoilt with Medicare, and like spoiled children, some of us abuse it.

Folk whine about the short-comings of Medicare and our hospital systems, but the short-comings are ours. We over-use it. We need money in the system to improve it.  The best way would be by replacing Medicare with a fair user-pays system.

I am not au fait with the hospital systems of states other than Queensland, except to recall that the system in operation in New South Wales in the 1960s, when I lived there, was ideal.  A system similar to that, in place of Medicare, would ensure that the relevant governments (Federal Government if and when it takes over Health) could afford to adequately equip hospitals with staff as well as equipment.

The New South Wales system called for means-testing, so that those who could afford to pay some or all of the costs of treatment were charged according to their income.  Such a system would ensure that those who could afford to pay for medical care would have to pay.   It would ease the financial strain on the system and provide cash to improve it.  It would also weed out some of the hypochondriacs who presently clog up the system with endless tests and procedures, and make other people more careful of their own well-being.

Instead of a standard Medicare subsidy for visits to the G.P., patients could be required to pay some contribution, subject to a means test.  This would be fairer than the present practice of payment to G.P.s.  Now, some G.P.s, foremost among them New Australian medicos, tend to bulk-bill to remain in the game, while others charge a “gap” fee of up to $30 or $50.  Hypochondriacs tend to take advantage of bulk-billing medicos.  A threatened charge on those hypochondriac patients who can afford to pay for their imaginary ills might snap them to reality, free up medicos for genuine need, and save taxpayers some money.

I have in a previous chapter dealt with staffing problems of medicos and of all grades of nurses, but we also need clerical staff, and the money to afford to pay them.

Getting personal, my experience has been that there is not nearly enough clerical staff to handle the huge volume of patients who flow or attempt to flow through the system each day. Try phoning to make or even cancel an appointment at one of Brisbane’s large hospitals, for instance, and your call will 99 times out of 100 go to a call centre where a recorded voice will tell you that due to the large volume of calls you have zero chance of getting through and should try again another day.  There must be countless would-be cancelled appointments going begging.

We also need more domestic staff and more junior nursing staff. Getting personal again, my brother had a double knee construction some months back.  On the second day he was in hospital and bed-bound, I visited him around lunch-time to find him hungrily eyeing his lunch tray which was planted on a trolley on the other side of the room.  The maid who had put it there was run off her feet and didn’t spend time to put the trolley within reach.  There should have been a nurse to supervise feeding – to check that those who needed help with feeding got it, but only the maid was available, and she had no training in such things.

Appointments get muddled, phone calls don’t get through, Australia Post delivers mailed appointments three to five days after they are due.  Australia Post is another mob which needs more workers.   We need money to pay them. While people languish on job-keeper waiting for jobs which may never re-appear, nothing improves.

We CAN’T AFFORD Medicare.  A fair user-pays system would be better for all of us.   If the governments won’t take the first step, how about some of you unemployed try something new?  Get some training as a clerk or call-centre operator or domestic or wardsman – or with Australia Post.

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