HANRAHAN is alive and well. He has turned his political focus towards the Canberra Hospital.
Of course there are problems, but they can be uncovered and addressed. The process must not undermine the commitment and work of so many of our wonderful nurses, doctors, allied health professionals and other staff that work so hard to ensure the ACT and region has outstanding health care facilities.
“We’ll all be rooned, said Hanrahan”. This phrase is from the famous Australian bush poem by the Roman Catholic priest Patrick Joseph Hartigan who used the pen name John O’Brien. The poem touches on the pessimism of one of his farmer parishioners at both the time of drought and then flood and the disaster that will occur “before the year is out”.
Hanrahans operate across the political spectrum. The Canberra Hospital provides a great example. It is appropriate for the opposition to identify problems and to bring them to the public’s attention. However, it is also appropriate for the community to soberly assess the extent of the problems and to determine the reality of “we’ll all be rooned”.
In March Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris restructured the Health Directorate. Such a restructure was always going to be painful, cause anguish for some of the players and reveal issues within the Directorate. Change processes take time, are difficult, and invariably challenge comfort zones. Clearly, the Minister was aware of problems within her areas of responsibility and set out to address them.
At the time she argued: “This separation will enable a clearer focus on operational effectiveness and efficiency, and improve accountability for health service delivery.”
She was also seeking to improve the culture of the health system.
The 19th century French historian, Alexis de Tocqueville identified in “L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution“ that revolutions do not so much occur when things are at their worst – but rather as they begin to improve. He saw the dissatisfaction with the rate of change as the prime catalyst. Perhaps a similar phenomenon applies at the Canberra Hospital.
Michael De’Ath, the newly appointed Director-General of Health, responded to questioning by Tim Shaw on morning radio 2CC regarding the announcement of an inquiry into bullying and the culture of ACT Health.
He argued that the inquiry would supplement the considerable work that has already taken place to improve the Canberra Hospital, to build a better culture throughout ACT Health and to find more effective ways to assess the extent and type of bullying in some sections of the hospital.
The impression created by the ACT opposition and reported in the media is that the whole hospital is “rooned”. Hence the call for a very expensive and legalistic Royal Commission or inquiry under the Inquiries Act. De’Ath argued this is not needed and pointed to the accreditation process in the Canberra Hospital that was turned from a failure to comply in a number of areas to a clean bill of health within six months. Change is possible. Where problems are identified they can be improved. However, this can only happen if there is a positive culture of respect and a willingness to address specific issues.
What is really needed is an inquiry headed by an appropriate person who understands change management, culture and clinical issues. It must determine the extent of bullying and harassment across the ACT Health Directorate and make recommendations to address the issues. The person must be able identify genuine bullying (which is completely unacceptable in any workplace). This is in contrast to petulant accusations when demands are made on staff that they deliver according to their clinical responsibilities and other work duties.
There will always be opportunities for political Hanrahans. They will operate similarly to the predictions in the famous poem of being “rooned”. In the poem, the plentiful harvest followed the drought and flood before the next set of predictions were made of being “rooned” by bushfires.
We are not “all rooned”. Spending millions and millions on a legalistic inquiry would be irresponsible when the money should be spent on improving the health and well-being of the greater Canberra community.
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006.