Monday, November 06, 2006

Australia: Public hospital radiology meltdown

And without radiography and other scans, diagnosis of many serious conditions grinds to a halt

Radiation workers will consider mass resignations from Queensland hospitals at a crisis summit today. Queensland Health staff say their own research exposes an X-ray and cancer treatment crisis in the state's major hospitals. The workers say state-run hospitals are plagued by drastic staff shortages, millions of dollars of equipment sitting idle, extensive waiting lists and the forced closure of essential services. The summit will be told breast-screening services are close to collapse and cancer patients are still waiting up to nine weeks longer than the maximum standard for life-saving radiation treatment.

More than 100 radiographers, radiation therapists, sonographers and nuclear medicine technologists will attend the emergency meeting in Brisbane, where the research will be released. "The actual frontline workforce - the people who help diagnose and treat the patients - will tell it all. This has never happened before," a spokesman for the Medical Radiation Professionals Group said yesterday. "The outcome of the summit could very well result in the start of resignations across the Queensland Health medical radiation disciplines. "In some hospitals a handful of resignations would effectively shut down most medical imaging services."

The group, which represents 800 staff, claims Queensland Health has lost more than a third of its sonography workforce, affecting 90,000 ultrasound patients a year, including pregnant women. It says major hospitals will be forced to make severe cutbacks to CT, MRI and angiography services because of an average 30 per cent staff shortage. At some hospitals, staff numbers were down by more than 50 per cent, the group says.

The summit will consider a vote of no confidence in Queensland Health Minister Stephen Robertson. "The minister will need to take the crisis seriously or he may be left with a skeleton workforce next year - not that he is far from that now," the spokesman said. "Without medical radiation professionals there is no diagnosis or treatment for most patient conditions." Sonographer Craig Collins said about 80 per cent of all patients who walked through the front door of Queensland hospitals needed medical imaging. "If they go undiagnosed they'll never make it to a waiting list," Mr Collins said.

Mr Robertson is overseas with a group of senior doctors looking at children's hospitals and talking to recruitment agencies. A spokesman for the minister said he had recently met the radiation group



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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