Saturday, July 25, 2009

British swine flu farce

No wonder Britain has the worst incidence of it

I was the first in my house to go down with the H1N1 virus. It was only a matter of time before someone else in the family followed. Seven days after my initial symptoms, my husband woke up with the telltale sore throat, headache and general all-over ennui that signal the start of this virus. By yesterday he was no better, his throat inflamed and his temperature hovering around the 38C mark.

I called the new swine flu helpline. A well-spoken, pre-recorded gentleman gave me a clear explanation of the clinical nature of swine flu. In a passage that reminded me faintly of Mitchell and Webb’s “Remain Indoors” sketch, I was told to stay at home if I or someone I knew was experiencing any of the symptoms, and to visit the website or call this number: 0800 1513100.

Not wishing to drag my husband into the shed that doubles as my office, I decided to try the telephone option. Much to my surprise, I got through quickly and easily to a rather nervous-sounding woman from Scotland. Anxiously, she checked that I was calling from England (this service doesn’t work for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland).

Was the person I was calling on behalf of a child? No. Were they with me? Yes. Were they also in England. Er, yes. Asleep or awake? Awake. Could they talk without loss of breath? Yes. She checked again: it’s not a child? No. Are they making grunting noises? What, like the baby in Alice in Wonderland? No, not yet at any rate. Could the patient touch his chin to his chest. Yes.

There was a long silence while this information, clearly the bit of the questionnaire that is designed to weed out meningitis and other serious infections — the work that an actual doctor would normally do — was being processed. She then asked for his date of birth and name, and we proceeded to the meat of the survey — sorry, assessment.

It was at this point that the process became a shade farcical. As the questions progressed, it became clear that not only did the operator have no formal medical training, she wasn’t even familiar with basic health terminology. For example, she struggled to read out the word “Relenza”; When asking if the patient had any other metabolic conditions, the word “metabolic” seemed to baffle her, as did the names of various drugs; and the term “cystic fibrosis” eluded her completely. I really wasn’t expecting any detailed clinical knowledge, but surely basic literacy should be a requirement.

Nevertheless, the computer seemed satisfied, and so I was told that my husband was authorised for a course of antivirals. I was given a number, which the woman stressed I could be told only once (in the manner of that other great British farce, ’Allo ’Allo) and that if I lost, would not be reissued. I was to take this number, along with my ID, to my antiviral collection point.

Meanwhile, in a darkened room somewhere, a friend of mine with early symptoms was on her laptop. By her own admission more likely to be suffering from hypochondria than real flu, she had nevertheless decided she wanted to be on the safe side and secure some Tamiflu just in case. Even with a rudimentary knowledge of all things swine, she managed to tick all the right boxes and rang me, delighted, to say that for her, too, the computer had said yes.

Quite why the Government has taken swine flu away from the medically qualified and franchised it out to some of David Brent’s less sparky colleagues is a mystery. People whose day jobs normally consist of conducting market research surveys should not be in charge of speaking to potentially sick people. That is at the very least the job of nurses. Anything less is a dereliction of duty.

The principal dangers from this virus seems to be with secondary infections: complications arising from the illness. When the person assessing your symptoms can’t even read the questions, it hardly offers much grounds for reassurance. All that will happen is that the genuinely ill will get overlooked, and the wily will get their Tamiflu.

Next stop, eBay.


Another report:

'Are you unconscious?': What happened when the Mail phoned the new swine flu hotline

The National Pandemic Flu Service hotline was caught up in controversy almost as soon as it was launched yesterday. Callers were asked to describe their symptoms by call centre workers with no medical training.

Concerns were raised by doctors and campaign groups as patients were asked a series of bizarre questions including whether they were 'unconscious' or 'unresponsive'.

Launched at 3pm, the helpline and website were intended to dispense antivirals quickly to those at risk and take the pressure off GPs. But thousands of sufferers were given conflicting information by the 2,000 call centre workers with just three hours of experience.

Calls made by the Daily Mail revealed inconsistencies in the advice given.....

More here

Australia: Mother gives high-risk birth at home after being refused admittance by public hospital

A MOTHER has claimed she was forced to give birth on her bedroom floor after being turned away from a Sydney hospital because there were not enough beds. Natasha Ramirez, 27, was bleeding and in labour when she first arrived at Liverpool Hospital last Thursday but said she was told by a nurse, "We don't have enough room tonight". "She told me to go back home because I wouldn't be in labour for another 24 to 48 hours," Ms Ramirez said yesterday.

Five hours later baby Anjelita was born on the bedroom floor at the Ramirez home, The Daily Telegraph reports. The hospital last night refused to comment on the specific allegations.

Ms Ramirez was at her Liverpool unit with her partner Ricardo Hermosilla when she went into labour about 3am. With her mother Diane Burns in Dubbo, Ms Ramirez decided to call a taxi to take her to the hospital. When she arrived she was taken to the birthing unit but claimed she was not seen by a doctor, only a nurse.

At four days overdue, Ms Ramirez was concerned that there might be complications similar to those she suffered in her previous birth when she needed anti-D injections because of her O-negative blood type. "A nurse assessed me and told me to go back home because they were full that night," she said. "I was told all along during my pregnancy that as soon as I went into labour I needed to be assessed and given the injections straight away. "When I got back home I had to lie on the floor I was in so much pain."

She called the hospital again and was told by staff to return. Mr Hermosilla called an ambulance but Anjelita was born before it arrived. "I am angry because something could have happened," she said. Her mother said she was furious her daughter had been put through such an ordeal. "When she got home she rang the hospital and told them she was having contractions and then they said they would make arrangements for a bed," Ms Burns said. "It just makes you wonder why they couldn't do that in the first place."

In a statement last night, a hospital spokeswoman said patients' complaints were taken "very seriously". "Patients who have not yet begun labour, and who are assessed by a doctor and found to have no other clinical needs, are usually sent home to await the full onset of labour," the spokeswoman said.


Governors worried by healthcare bill costs

The nation’s governors, Democrats as well as Republicans, voiced deep concern yesterday about the shape of the healthcare bill emerging from Congress, fearing that the federal government is about to hand them expensive new Medicaid obligations without providing the money to pay for them.

The role of the states in a restructured healthcare system dominated the summer meeting of the National Governors Association here this weekend - with bipartisan animosity voiced against the Obama administration’s plan during a closed-door luncheon Saturday and in a private meeting yesterday afternoon with the secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius.

“I think the governors would all agree that what we don’t want from the federal government is unfunded mandates,’’ said Governor Jim Douglas of Vermont, a Republican who is the group’s incoming chairman. “We can’t have the Congress impose requirements that we are forced to absorb beyond our capacity to do so.’’

The governors’ backlash creates yet another healthcare headache for the Obama administration, which has tried to recruit state leaders to pressure members of Congress to wrap up their fitful negotiations. In its effort to win support for the health plan, the administration dispatched Sebelius - who was governor of Kansas before she joined the cabinet in April - and the federal Medicaid chief, Cindy Mann, to meet here with the governors. Meanwhile, other administration officials spent yesterday pushing the proposal on television talk shows.

President Obama also plans to address questions about his health plan at a news conference Wednesday.

Although many governors said significant change was needed, they said their deep-seated fiscal troubles made it a terrible time to shift costs to the states. With the recession draining states of tax revenues even as their Medicaid rolls are surging, the National Governors Association projects that states will face aggregate deficits of $200 billion over the next three years.

Because the states and the federal government share the cost of Medicaid coverage for low-income people, any increase in eligibility levels, benefits, or payments to doctors would impose new costs on the states unless Washington agrees to absorb them entirely. In at least one of several bills circulating in Congress, the states would eventually pick up a share of the new costs, and the governors fear they cannot count on pledges in other bills that they will be held harmless.

It was unclear whether the governors’ association would put together a statement expressing its dismay, at least partly because half of the governors did not attend. Many, including the group’s chairman, Governor Edward G. Rendell, a Pennsylvania Democrat, stayed home to deal with budget crises.

Some of the group’s most recognizable names - Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, Sarah Palin of Alaska, Charlie Crist of Florida, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, David Paterson of New York, Jennifer M. Granholm of Michigan, and Mark Sanford of South Carolina - were not here.

More here

Health care Never Never Land

In “Sicko,” iconoclastic filmmaker Michael Moore extols the virtue of health care in such liberal “paradises” as the United Kingdom and Cuba. Leaving his audience to wonder where he would choose to go for treatment if he were facing a life-threatening illness — the People’s Hospital in Havana or the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. — Moore exhibits the same Alice-in-Wonderland delusion that has settled over the Obama administration.

A majority of members of Congress, too, seem to believe that if only enough bureaucracy and taxpayer dollars are thrown at the health care “crisis,” then everyone in the country will have their every medical need met, when they want it, and at much reduced cost. Such a mind set turns Peter Pan’s Never Never Land into a reality show.

For starters, advocates of the House legislation might want to talk to governors of those states, like Massachusetts, that have already implemented “universal” coverage plans. Increasing program costs, coupled with decreased state revenues as a result of the economic downturn, are causing serious fiscal problems and are forcing those states to consider cutbacks in coverage.

However, witnessing the irrational, “gotta-do-this-now” push in our nation’s capitol to pass comprehensive health care “reform” within the next few weeks, it is obvious the proponents of Obama-care are not interested in anyone throwing the cold water of fiscal reality on their parade.

The House version of the legislation, unveiled by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last week, includes substantial mandates on American businesses (including a severe, 8 percent payroll tax on any business that fails to offer health insurance coverage to its employees). Still, the Pollyannaish Pelosi claimed (with a straight face) it would “lower costs to businesses.” This is government logic at its finest — you lower the cost of doing business by raising taxes on those businesses.

Pelosi’s obvious inability to grasp even the most basic of economic concepts was further displayed when she claimed that the “costs to consumers,” too, would be lowered. Apparently, this would be accomplished by placing a new surtax on those American consumers whose income exceeded the levels deemed worthy by the legislators.

Analysts of the 1,000-plus page legislation calculate its 10-year cost to exceed $1 trillion. Other experts fear such a figure greatly underestimates its true cost. Even the Congressional Budget Office calculates that the government subsidy for health care coverage will amount to some $6,000 per person within the next decade, which figures to more than $1.8 trillion.

Pelosi’s bill would also create a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers. Such a scenario, of course, is never a fair “competition,” because the government “owner” can always print money, spend borrowed money indefinitely, operate without regard for cost-benefit analysis, and threaten legal sanctions for those who fail to comply. None of these remedies are available to businesses (except, of course, for the “new” General Motors).

The smoke-and-mirrors approach is evident also in the fact that high-income taxpayers, who would already be taxed in order to pay for the “universal” coverage for their less-well-off compatriots, would face escalating taxes if the government fails in the years ahead to achieve targeted “savings” in Medicaid and Medicare. In other words, the government will set “savings targets,” but if it fails to meet them, it is taxpayers who will pay the penalty, not those members of Congress or federal bureaucrats who decide how much to spend on the entitlement programs.

Other industries, including pharmaceuticals, will face increased taxes as well, in order to pay for this “reform.” The more successful drug makers will pay a higher percentage tax than their smaller, less successful colleagues. Once again, success in the business arena is punished in the government arena.

Truly, this bill is a monstrosity.


The Left Rejects Free-Market Solutions to Healthcare

Filling in for Keith Olbermann yesterday on MSNBC’s Countdown program, guest host David Shuster chastised Republicans for having no plan “to contain exploding healthcare costs.” So busy was Shuster smirking and sneering (like Olbermann) over the Republicans’ alleged indifference to those costs, that he neglected to mention Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Elmendorf’s recent assessment that the Democrat healthcare plan would increase federal costs “to a significant degree” – because it plainly “raises future federal outlays more than it reduces future federal outlays.”

Neither did Shuster mention that Medicare, the federally funded insurance program for senior citizens, wastes as much as $1 out of every $3 it spends, even as its overall operating costs spiral out of control.

Nor did Shuster point out the legendary economic inefficiency of Medicaid, the government-run insurance program for low-income Americans, which is administered by the states but receives anywhere from one-half to two-thirds of its funding from the federal government. While the program’s costs are projected to rise by more than 100 percent over the next decade, fraud runs rampant; in New York State, for instance, 40 percent of all Medicaid claims are fraudulent.

And neither did Schuster note the similar fiscal inefficiencies or bureaucratic nightmares of SCHIP (the State Children’s Health Insurance Program), which was established 12 years ago to provide medical coverage for children in households with low incomes that nonetheless exceeded Medicaid eligibility.

Leftists like Shuster (and the Democrats in Congress) remain willfully blind to the mountains of evidence demonstrating that government-run healthcare is guaranteed only to raise overall costs, increase the incidence of fraud, and lower the standard of care.

Why do they continue to support it? That’s simple: because they believe in it. The notion that the federal government should control every aspect of people’s lives, regardless of the costs or demerits of such control, is an article of faith for the Left, not a product of reason. Conversely, leftists never offer free-market solutions to problems like healthcare reform because they abjure free markets.

In her landmark book, The Top Ten Myths of American Health Care, author Sally Pipes writes:
[T]rue reform of the health care system requires less government interference—not more. Only with a freer market can we lower costs and achieve quality universal health care. If we have universal choice in health care, we will reach universal coverage—a goal supported by all of us.

Consider Lasik corrective eye surgery. Because most insurance providers including government programs won’t cover the procedure, the market isn’t distorted by excessive regulations. Providers operate in a free market where technology is constantly advancing, price competition is fierce, and the consumer is king. Companies rise and fall according to their ability to provide customer satisfaction.

In the past decade, more than three million Lasik procedures have been performed. During that time, the average price of Lasik eye surgery has dropped nearly 40 percent, from $2,200 to $1,350 per eye.

Unfortunately, Lasik is a rare exception to the general rule. In just about every other area of health care, the government is heavily involved. So the key to lowering costs and expanding coverage is to expand the Lasik model. That means encouraging competition by decreasing government’s role in the health care marketplace.


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