Monday, September 24, 2007

Socialized medicine is broken and can't be fixed

Last week I pointed out that Michael Moore, maker of the documentary "Sicko," portrayed the Cuban health-care system as though it were utopia -- until I hit him with some inconvenient facts. So he backed off and said, "Let's stick to Canada and Britain because I think these are legitimate arguments that are made against the film and against the so-called idea of socialized medicine. And I think you should challenge me on these things."

OK, here we go. One basic problem with nationalized health care is that it makes medical services seem free. That pushes demand beyond supply. Governments deal with that by limiting what's available. That's why the British National Health Service recently made the pathetic promise to reduce wait times for hospital care to four months. The wait to see dentists is so long that some Brits pull their own teeth. Dental tools: pliers and vodka. One hospital tried to save money by not changing bed sheets every day. British papers report that instead of washing them, nurses were encouraged to just turn them over.

Government rationing of health care in Canada is why when Karen Jepp was about to give birth to quadruplets last month, she was told that all the neonatal units she could go to in Canada were too crowded. She flew to Montana to have the babies. "People line up for care; some of them die. That's what happens," Canadian doctor David Gratzer, author of The Cure, told "20/20". Gratzer thought the Canadian system was great until he started treating patients. "The more time I spent in the Canadian system, the more I came across people waiting. … You want to see your neurologist because of your stress headache? No problem! You just have to wait six months. You want an MRI? No problem! Free as the air! You just gotta wait six months."

Michael Moore retorts that Canadians live longer than Americans. But Canadians' longer lives are unrelated to heath care. Canadians are less likely to get into accidents or be murdered. Take those factors into account, not to mention obesity, and Americans live longer.

Most Canadians like their free health care, but Canadian doctors tell us the system is cracking. More than a million Canadians cannot find a regular family doctor. One town holds a lottery. Once a week the town clerk gets a box out of the closet. Everyone who wants to have a family doctor puts his or her name in it. The clerk pulls out one slip to determine the winner. Others in town have to wait.

It's driven some Canadians to private for-profit clinics. A new one opens somewhere in Canada almost every week. Although it's not clear that such private clinics are legal, one is run by the president of the Canadian Medical Association, Dr. Brian Day, because under government care, he says, "We found ourselves in a situation where we were seeing sick patients and weren't being allowed to treat them. That was something that we couldn't tolerate."

Canadians stuck on waiting lists often pay "medical travel agents" to get to America for treatment. Shirley Healey had a blocked artery that kept her from digesting food. So she hired a middleman to help her get to a hospital in Washington state. "The doctor said that I would have only had a very few weeks to live," Healey said. Yet the Canadian government calls her surgery "elective." "The only thing elective about this surgery was I elected to live," she said.

Not all Canadian health care is long lines and lack of innovation. We found one place where providers offer easy access to cutting-edge life-saving technology, such as CT scans. And patients rarely wait. But they have to bark or meow to get access to this technology. Vet clinics say they can get a dog or a cat in the next day. People have to wait a month


Australia: Public hospital dubbed 'the killing fields'

A KEY Melbourne hospital has been labelled "the killing fields" at a high-level meeting of doctors. The damning indictment on the health system is revealed in a letter from a leading doctor to Premier John Brumby, obtained by the Sunday Herald Sun. In the letter Dr Peter Lazzari reveals how Maroondah Hospital has become known as "the killing fields", as it is forced to rely on under-trained doctors to manage life-and-death cases.

Dr Lazzari, chairman of the medical staff at Angliss Hospital, wrote to the Premier demanding action. In the letter, he says: "All the chairs of medical staff of Victoria's major public hospitals at the August meeting at AMA House were appalled to hear the Maroondah representative speak gravely of his hospital's reputation among doctors on rotation as the "killing fields".

Opposition health spokesman Helen Shardey said: "If we have doctors making these sorts of claims, the Government can no longer turn a blind eye."

But Maroondah Hospital general manager Zoltan Kokai categorically refuted the claims. The hospital was recently been accredited by the Australian Council of Health Care standards and its doctors were credentialed in accordance with Eastern Health policy and registered with the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria, he said.

But Paul Hoek knows how things can go wrong in the hospital system. The 41-year-old truck driver broke his leg more than a year ago, but is still off work. When his plaster cast was removed 12 weeks after his initial operation at Maroondah Hospital, he was left with a painful, gaping wound near his ankle. Ten months later that wound has not healed. The initial operation saw 18 screws and a plate inserted in his leg but months later Mr Hoek was still complaining about pain in the leg. He says it took more than 30 visits before he was taken seriously and doctors discovered five screws holding his fracture together had broken and the plate was protruding out of his skin. "I am furious," Mr Hoek, of Lilydale, said. He said he was on a disability pension and struggling financially.


1 comment:

Douglas Chalmers said...

From a letter to The Age, Melbourne - Just comparing my recent experience with the Barbara Walker Pain Management clinic at St. Vincent's hospital to the Maroondah Hospital "killing fields" saga:-

After waiting over a year for an appointment and then a very disappointing first consultation there , I decided to simply continue with the natural therapies I was having some success with (manly homeopathy, chiropractic and acupuncture) and my GP's assistance instead so I cancelled my future appointment as well as making a formal complaint (see attached letter).

Amazingly, instead of replying to my complaint, they merely sent me another appointment advice for a later date. It seemed to be a matter of their trying to look wise by saying little. I recall the attitude of the so-called pain specialist there was that he was actually proud that they were so busy that they had to keep people waiting for a year. He didn't like my comment that the clinic was short-staffed because it was under-funded.

Again, I was attending the ENT clinic for quite some time before they bothered to refer me to the pain clinic although they never provided me with any pain medications themselves. I had actually given up trying to seek satisfactory treatment at the Royal Eye + Ear hospital and The Alfred hospital because of their failures in that regard, too. In the past 7 years, I have never had any medication prescribed for a very painful and distressing inner ear condition (only ear drops) and I was told at The Alfred that their pain management clinic would teach me meditation!

Additionally, St. Vincent's hospital's ENT clinic's clerical staff cancelled me as a patient (a non-medical decision!) because I failed to attend a couple of appointments. I had phoned to cancel once but, the last time, I was too sick to get out of bed (I am living alone) yet they still used that as an excuse to dump me. Usually, they would phone me to re-schedule an appointment but they now seem to treat patients only as some kind of blockage in their precious system.

My doctor had to write another referral to get me into the clinic again. Obviously, their idea was that I was to be disdainfully treated as some kind of idiot so that I would then get the message, so to speak. By the ENT clinic insisting that a new referral be produced, my GP was being used to pressure me to comply to their self-righteous system procedures on the basis that it was all my fault and they were above any kind of error. But, was that something the registrar was responsible for latterly or more conceited impudence from clerical staff there?

Thus, the chaotic emergency wards at our hospitals are the obverse of the clique of specialists and surgeons who are utterly self-preoccupied and oblivious of their complicity in the shambles caused by inept management styles and imperiously incompetent CEO's. Of course, nothing has been improved by the self-serving and self-congratulating state politicians and their federal counterparts who blithely ignore human suffering for the sake of focussing solely on their own survival and their callous manipulation of others to their own ends.

Yours sincerely,