How snakes and ladders guide the ACT health system

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Rhonda Collins in hospital… good to go, after a month.

Here’s reader BOB COLLINS’ sequel to his story published on April 15 about his wife’s experience of having vital surgery to relieve chronic pain cancelled 30 minutes before the operation at Canberra Hospital on March 29… 

MY wife, Rhonda, languished in hospital for 10 days, until April 8, when after all other pain medication and physiotherapy failed, an epidural was given. 

This enabled her to walk about 20 metres, still in pain but mobile enough to go home and wait, which we did after thanking the nursing staff for their incredible care and patience.

Almost a month after cancelling, we met with an apologetic and sympathetic head of neurosurgery, who fitted Rhonda into his already busy schedule six days later, on May 3.

The wait after the cancellation could certainly have been longer had pressure not been brought to bear from a number of quarters. 

So I’m writing to compliment the skill of the surgeon and thank the incredibly efficient nursing staff; express relief that the operation finally happened and offer brickbats to the Labor/Greens public health system!

Our experience certainly didn’t match the comments made in 2018 in the ACT government’s submission to the Inquiry into the Future Sustainability of Health Funding in the ACT viz:  “Together with a comprehensive System Innovation Program, ACT Health is pursuing reform to improve the efficiency and quality of publicly funded health services within the ACT.” 

Similar comments have been made in the Legislative Assembly by the current Minister for Health about the exciting new expansion of the Canberra Hospital and the plans being made to ensure Canberra is well placed to meet all future health needs. I remain a sceptic.

Our experience is also confirmation of Tony Bryce’s opinion in his recent “CityNews” article (“I had to go private to get vital tests at Calvary Hospital”, April 29) that the weaknesses in the public health system are “largely hidden by the dedication of doctors, nurses and other frontline staff that bridge the gaps and just make things happen”.

Unfortunately, the public elective surgery system is akin to a game of “snakes and ladders”. 

If you are booked in for elective surgery and have it cancelled, you’ve landed on a snake, and down the waiting list you go – how far down and for how long? Who knows! 

However, while back down that list you become very, very ill, you’ll find yourself on a ladder and up the list you go for immediate surgery. This will probably result in someone else landing on a snake and finding themselves “bumped”. And so the cycle continues in our wonderful public health system.

It is amazing how many people I have spoken to who have had this happen to them.

Sounds like Katy Gallagher’s 2008/09 plan to “future-proof” the ACT health system should not have been trashed by Mr Barr! I note that, under Mr Barr’s replacement scheme we now get an extra 120 or so extra beds by 2024, rather than the planned extra 400 or so beds by 2022 under Gallagher’s original scheme.

But we do have a tram.

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