Independent and FREE - 2021 Best Online Publication

Underfunded health system needs a shot in the arm

Independent and FREE – 2021 Best Online Publication (Qld Country Press)

Underfunded health system needs a shot in the arm

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Dr Jane Stephens: State's underfunded health system needs an urgent shot in the arm

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Queensland’s hospital system is in a world of pain, with misery seemingly in every underfunded nook and crowded cranny.

For a generation, the number crunchers have seen it coming, watching war babies and Baby Boomers survive longer than previous generations, living long enough – as so many of their bumper stickers used to threaten – to be a burden on their children.

Throw in that Queensland’s bountiful beauty has attracted more people to live here and voila! We have what Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said, with a tone that sounded like surprise but may have been ironic understatement, that the public hospital system is facing ‘unprecedented demand’.

If only they had heeded the warnings and bolstered the barricades. If only one of the governments of the past couple of decades had been brave enough to build for the predicted, not just politically strategic, need.

The Australian Medical Association Queensland this month said $3 billion (for 1500 new hospital beds and an army of new staff) was needed to turn the tide on ramping, overcrowding, unacceptable waiting lists and other disasters. The government recently announced it would spend $100 million on 65 new hospital beds and associated staff, which is great if it is the start of a spendathon but embarassing if that is the extent of its fix.

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Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists recently criticised the Palaszczuk government for having the lowest per capita expenditure on mental health in Australia, saying it was teetering on the brink. Palliative care is similarly roundly criticised for being underfunded and people are dying in pain as a result – inexcusable.

Patients brought to our hospitals by ambulance are being ramped by the half-dozen, as seen this week. That is ridiculous, given we have the nation’s newest medical mammoth, with all manner of machines that go ping and state-of-the-art wizardry in action.

With hospitals at Caloundra, Nambour, Noosa and Maleny standing in support, the newish kid in town – Sushine Coast University Hospital – is upheld as a wondrous example of what a hospital in the 2020s can be.

So while the systemic state of play is fraying fast, we on the Sunshine Coast should count our lucky stars at a time when such shiners are difficult to see.

It is also imperative that we separate the system from the fine people who work in it.

My experience at Sunshine Coast University Hospital this week could not have been better.

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I was one of more than 500 people that day being vaccinated against the dreaded COVID-19 and the process went like clockwork.

The lines were orderly and I was treated with respect. My details were checked – and double checked – and I was reassured. The staff were wonderful.

I just feel a little guilty about the lollypop I was given to ease my pain. I would happily give up my sweet treat if that meant more money for much-needed beds and staff.

Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer, media commentator and writer. The views expressed are her own.

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