Measuring healthcare = apples and oranges?

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The debate over gaping holes in Canberra’s healthcare system expanded today with the Canberra Liberals launch of a health discussion paper entitled, “The State of our Health” – which would be much funnier if the ACT was a State and not a territory – and the admission by ACT AMA president Dr Paul Jones that the way that healthcare outcomes are measured in Australia might not really kind of, you know, actually be uniform.

That is to say, although everyone keeps crowing about how terrible the ACT health system is, how it’s the “worst” in the whole country, it might not be that bad because other States measure their outcomes in slightly different ways.

“One of our frustrations is we don’t really know for sure, Dr Jones said.

“Different places, for example, do their bed counts in different ways when when we’re talking about bed occupancy rates. But what we do know is that all around the country we have pretty performance rates in terms of taking someone who is ill and who needs to be in hospital in bed to a ward.”

The paper, Opposition health spokesman Health Minister Jeremy Hanson says, points to the problems identified with the current system – like access block in emergency departments, elective surgery waits and bed occupancy rates.

“This is a very important milestone in the development of a policy alternative and there is no question that we need an alternative here in the ACT. When you look at our health system it is just about failing in all the outcome areas.”

“What we need is a strategic policy that takes us away from the failures we have seen.”

Hanson said they want to look at preventative care, better co-ordination and people being treated in places less expensive than hospitals.

Essentially the Opposition were announcing a decision to talk to some doctors and other people involved in healthcare to figure out what to do about the ACT health system. This will make them look better than the Government because they will be seen talking to people and talking to people is doing stuff and that looks good.

They will spend two years talking to people at the different forums they will organise – four in 2010 – starting with doctors.

The idea is that doctors and then some other people will be able to provide up-to-the-minute on-the-ground information and also hopefully some thoughts about how to fix all the problems we keep hearing about.

While the paper said the Liberals are committed to creating more hospital beds, Chief Minister Jon Stanhope said they have indicated a desire to cut them like they did last time they were in power.

“We’ve added over 200 beds replacing the 114 that the Liberal Party had cut.

“And today, talk about keeping people out of hospital, actually home-based care, really is a signal  ‘last time we were in government we cut 114 beds, let us back in and we’ll do it again’.”

But, as Dr Jones pointed out:

“What we hear as an organisation from emergency physicians is that they only have one problem, and that’s access block – and access block is directly related to capacity of the hospital in terms of inpatient beds. Whether we’re a little bit better or a little bit worse is perhaps part of the political argy-bargy that goes on, but the reality is that around the country it’s not good and people are suffering consequences as a result.”

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