Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A health bureaucracy that seems unable to do anything right

Queensland's hospital crisis has deepened, with the State Government accused of trying to shift the blame for the looming doctor shortage on to the Medical Board of Queensland. With emergency wards across the state under threat of closure as early as Monday, an urgent meeting will be held today on how to fast-track doctor job applications. Health Minister Stephen Robertson yesterday ordered the medical board to speed up its processing of medical accreditation to bring hundreds of new doctors into the system.

But the independent medical board hit back, accusing Mr Robertson's department of dumping more than 150 incomplete doctor applications on the board last Thursday. Opposition health spokesman Bruce Flegg said the Government had attempted to shift the blame for its own failings. When existing employment contracts expire on Monday, emergency departments around the state face staff shortages and some elective surgery may need to be postponed.

Representatives of the Australian College of Emergency Medicine yesterday met acting health director-general Terry Mehan to raise concerns about the impact of doctor shortages. They warned only three hospitals - the Princess Alexandra, Gold Coast and Townsville - had filled all their emergency department staff allocations. They also claimed their warnings about doctor shortages had been disregarded for months, and concerns about Caboolture Hospital - where the shortages are expected to be most severe - were still being ignored.

Mr Robertson yesterday revealed he had ordered the medical board to be more "efficient, prompt and welcoming" in its processing of applications for registration. In a letter to board executive officer Jim O'Dempsey last month, Mr Robertson said delays in processing registrations were hindering the Queensland Health recruitment campaign. The Minister also demanded reports on how many applications had been delayed, and how an additional $3.7 million in funding allocated as part of the health reform process had been spent. Mr Robertson told The Courier-Mail the more stringent checks introduced in the wake of the Jayant Patel scandal in Bundaberg had created delays, but said there should be "no diminution of the standards that we have put in place" in fast-tracking the registrations.

Mr O'Dempsey accepted there had been some delays in registering doctors, "but this is necessary to ensure that doctors who are registered aren't frauds". He said Queensland Health had provided its "priority list" for registrations only last week - less than two weeks before the January 16 deadline - and many of the applications were incomplete. Of the 220 doctors identified, 91 had not supplied sufficient information and 68 had not lodged applications at all.

Mr Robertson said he had not been told of any problems with the quality of information being supplied to the board by his department. "The medical board haven't given the courtesy of alerting me to that particular issue, if in fact it did occur," he said.



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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