Thursday, 23 May 2013

this is unhealthy

i'm not particularly impressed with this suggestion by the waikato district health board (wdhb), to reduce the waiting times at the hospital's emergency department:

Visitors to Waikato Hospital's emergency department could soon be handed leaflets after their consultation, telling them exactly why the reason they were there did not rate as an emergency....

An ongoing struggle to improve the times is being further hindered by the high number of people who could easily have avoided going to the ED, the board was told. 

the reason why the wdhb is concerned about emergency times is this:

Under the Government's health targets programme, each of the country's 20 health boards are set a goal of having 95 per cent of admissions being seen within the six-hour time frame. Waikato DHB sits in joint-last place in the rankings on 86.9 per cent. 

the board knows the reasons why it can't meet its target: overloading.  in fact, one of the board members even goes further and gives an accurate assessment of why this is happening:

Board member Ewan Wilson said he suspected many people would be deterred by the fear of exorbitant weekend surcharges at medical centres, so they headed straight to the hospital.

you would think then, that this board member would have something to say about the provision of affordable after-hours health care.  perhaps he would reinforce the notion that people shouldn't be denied medical attention because they can't afford the basic cost of seeing a GP.  he might have called on the government to rethink the way our health system is catering for those people inconsiderate enough to feel unwell and need a doctors outside of normal GP working hours.

but there is none of that.  instead, he thinks the wdhb "just need to get harder".  in other words, they should discourage people from using the hospital's emergency department, without any concern about where they might go.  many of those turned away would just not be able to afford the weekend rates at accident & emergency clinics, even with a community services card. there will be those who don't qualify for a card but are unable to afford the added up charges of a consultation and medicines.

and if these people don't see a doctor within a reasonable timeframe, they could end up back in emergency & might need hospitalisation because their condition has deteriorated.  so really, not much will have changed.

there are also issues here about excessive profits being made by private providers of accident & emergency care.  yes, they are providing a vital service, but i have a reasonable idea of the level of profits that are being made here, and i object to vulnerable people who really have very few options being forced to fork out on high fees just so these centres can make massive profits.  again, it's not like they had a choice in being unwell - if they had any choice in the matter, i'm sure they would have chosen a much more convenient time.

i believe in universal, affordable public health care.  i believe that access to health care is the right of every person in the country.  and while i agree that doctors have the right to earn a decent living, i can't support excessive profits.  especially because that is money that could be put back into the health system to provide better services for people who need it.

we already know that the most impoverished people suffer from the worst health problems.  if anything, the wdhb should be thinking of ways to get these people into the health system at the earliest possible stage of their illness.  i appreciate they are constrained by government targets and government funding, but at the very least, they should be lobbying the government to change the system instead of trying to shame the sick people who turn up on their doorstep.

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