Australia’s mismanaged health budgets is causing social injustice

It was one of those chilling conversations that you just can’t forget.

A woman in her fifties asked me about her eighty-year-old mother, who has been diagnosed with skin cancer.

As an ex-nurse, I frequently get asked medical/nursing/hospital style questions. What people don’t realise is that they are just using me as a sounding board, to raise issues that are ignored by the health industry. That’s fine with me. They need to talk to someone. I’m happy to listen. I just get upset at how much money is squandered on unproductive treatments, while so many patients get such a crappy service.

“Mum’s eighty-three for God’s sake. She’s still independent, but she’s frail and needs constant support. The doctors have already given her surgery and radiotherapy for the skin cancer on her arm. My sister drove her back and forth to the hospital. Mum recovered. But now they want to give her chemotherapy as well. For goodness sake. What’s wrong with these people?”

I asked what her mother’s wishes were.

“Oh mum don’t have any plans. She will just do whatever the doctors tell her. She’s that generation, you know, they never question figures of authority. Not like me, I’d be asking a million questions if I had cancer.”

I asked if the elderly lady had social support services like home help.

“God no! We live in the country. None of that is available in mum’s area. But my sister’s good, she drives mum to all her appointments. The hospital is four hours away, so it’s an eight-hour round trip, not to mention hospital waiting times. I help out when I can, I see mum every fortnight and do her cleaning. But chemo! We can’t do that. We just can’t all spend our lives driving mum around. My sister’s got her family to look after as well, no to mention working in a business…”

Then came the punch line.

“Mum’s got private health cover. She’s kept it up for years. She keeps thinking it’s the ‘right thing to do’. I think it’s just a waste of money. Is that why they keep giving her all these treatments? Are they using her to make money?”
Less than an hour later another woman approached me with her health problems. She was in her mid-forties. Her skin was sallow, her speech was slow, her eyes were dull.

“I’ve got cancer… all over my body. I’ve got this new Aboriginal treatment… it’s herbal and it helps control the pain well. I don’t want all the morphine the nurses keep giving me… I want to make my own choices.”

A friend came over to support her.

“‘Isn’t she fantastic? The doctors only gave her a year to live and that was two years ago. She’s a real fighter.”

I asked where the cancer was.

“In my stomach when they found it, but now it’s in my bones, everywhere. But hey, that’s OK. I take these herbal pills and lots of vitamins. Mostly the doctor is really good. But last time I went into hospital they really stuffed me around.”

“What happened?” I asked. I already know what the answer would be. This was a working class woman from the western suburbs.

“My doctor said… you need to be admitted. I needed to have this procedure. An he got me in real quick to the hospital. But it turned out they were busy, and couldn’t do the test until the next day. The next thing, the nurse came over to me and said… we need to discharge you. You can’t stay overnight. We need the bed. I told her, my doctor says I need to be here. I live over an hour away, an I’m too sick to get the bus. But the nurse says…  sorry, I’ve got orders to follow. An she walked me right out of the hospital and put me into a taxi. The taxi cost me a lot of money. An I had to turn around and get back to the same hospital the next morning. Nobody thinks about stuff like that, do they?”

No, they don’t.

The many layers of hospital bureaucrats don’t think about it. The politicians working in State and Federal health portfolios don’t think about it. Bureaucrats in Australia’s plethora of unconnected and bloated health departments don’t think about it. And the mainstream media certainly don’t write about it.

Health is an industry that has been routinely documented as wasting billions of dollars every year. Over servicing, fraud and unnecessary tests are said to account for 30% to 40% of the USA health budget. Australian health advisors routinely write about the same problems. But their reports all fall on deaf ears.

Meanwhile, low-income people with end-stage cancer are being frog-marched out of public hospitals because they are seen as a financial ‘burden’. At the same time expensive treatments with questionable outcomes are being pushed on to elderly, privately insured patients.

This is the real face of Australia’s fragmented, uncoordinated and increasingly ‘profit driven’ health system. Social injustice at the worst time of someone’s life. The result is bad health treatment all round. And distressed people caught up in a bad system that is unaccountable.

© Wikihospitals 2015