Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Spin doctor numbers surge

Queensland Health has been accused of being more interested in spin doctors than real doctors after a major expansion in its public relations staff in recent years. Figures provided to Parliament show the department has increased the size of its public relations and media management staff three times faster than it expanded its medical workforce. But the Government has defended the PR staff, saying they keep local communities informed of what's happening at their hospitals.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson told Parliament the number of full-time public relations and communications staff employed by the department grew from 32.05 in 2001-02 to 46.62 in December last year - an increase of more than 45 per cent. By contrast, annual reports tabled to Parliament show the medical workforce grew by just 14.43 per cent between 2001-02 and last year.

The number of nurses employed by Queensland Health grew by just 3.87 per cent over the four years, and the number of specialists retained as visiting medical officers actually fell by 17.7 per cent. The total health workforce expanded by 6.8 per cent over the period.

The cost of paying Queensland Health's PR professionals is this year expected to top $3 million for the first time on record, with a total wages bill of around $12 million since 2001-02. The department is now advertising a $100,000-per-year position for a director of public affairs in its corporate office. Mr Robertson said most of the PR staff were hospital-based information officers, and the number of public affairs staff in Queensland Health's head office had actually fallen from 20 to 14 as part of the health system reform process.

Liberal leader Bob Quinn, who asked Mr Robertson to provide the figures, said the results showed the Government's obsession with influencing public opinion on health rather than actually fixing the system. "What these trends show is that the Beattie Labor Government is more interested in protecting its own political hide than it is the health of Queenslanders," Mr Quinn 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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