Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Congestion at overstretched hospital emergency departments could worsen under a plan to assess sick people via a national hotline, doctors warn. Under the plan, a 24-hour national call centre staffed by triage nurses will direct sick people to a pharmacy, doctor or hospital, depending on the seriousness of their complaints. The plan, to cost up to $40 million, aims to ease pressure on emergency departments by sending those with minor ailments elsewhere. The Council of Australian Government meeting will consider the proposal on February 10 with some states, including NSW, already behind the idea after successful local trials.

A spokeswoman for federal Health Minister Tony Abbott confirmed the plan was on the agenda for the COAG meeting. But the Australian Medical Association has warned that hospital congestion could worsen under the proposal, with studies showing most people who go to emergency departments need to be there. The phone triage plan would probably not reduce the number of people presenting at emergency departments, AMA president Dr Mukesh Haikerwal said. "The people that turn up to emergency departments by and large need to be there and such a system may well increase the demand of people needing to be seen in a general practice or in an emergency department."

But NSW Premier Morris Iemma said the system had worked in a Hunter Valley trial and a national scheme was long overdue. "This is an initiative whose time has come and is one that we have, for a long time, been pressing the Commonwealth to make as part of the after-hours service," he said. But his position was undermined by federal Labor's health spokeswoman Julia Gillard, who said the plan had failed in Britain. A shortage of doctors was the fundamental problem, Ms Gillard said. A better scheme was proposed by Labor at the last election that would put callers in contact with local services, she said. "Labor's model is a model that will actually get you a doctor if you need one after hours," she said.

Doctors Reform Society president Tim Woodruff backed the AMA, calling the proposal a gimmick that would have no real impact on emergency department pressures and waiting times. "Instead of properly addressing all the problems in our public hospitals, the Federal Government spends $2.5 billion every year on supporting the private hospital sector and offered an extra $40 million for a hotline, which will have a marginal impact at best," he said. – AAP



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL hospitals and health insurance schemes should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the very poor and minimal regulation. Both Australia and Sweden have large private sector health systems with government reimbursement for privately-provided services so can a purely private system with some level of government reimbursement or insurance for the poor be so hard to do?

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