Focus on cuts, not care, is no health fix

As the Weatherill administration searches for $766 million in health cuts – two-thirds of which are state cuts initiated long before the federal Budget was handed down – the State Government is in the midst of its ‘‘transforming health’’ consultation process. But how can it be a real transformation when it is focused on metropolitan hospitals?

How can we transform our hospital system if we don’t look at transforming all our hospitals, metropolitan and regional, public and private? How can we transform our health system when we don’t look beyond hospitals to engage GPs, carers, rehabilitation, community health, mental health, educators, medical research facilities and other health services?

Hoping to transform health by changing only a select number of hospitals is like thinking that buying aerial bombers alone will prevent the next fire. As the SA president of the Australian Medical Association Dr Patricia Montanaro put it last November, “Transforming public metropolitan hospitals is only part of the answer. We need to look at health across the whole system and state … We need more support for the things that keep people well and out of hospital”.

I am determined to refocus health reform on improving health outcomes – on delivering more holistic, preventive care and developing alternatives to hospitalisation. SA Minister for Health Jack Snelling’s current criticisms of the impact of Federal Government policies on local GPs smack of hypocrisy, given that over the last two years his own Government has cut more than 100 jobs from preventive health programs and turned its back on calls for a genuine transformation of the system.

Managing a diverse and dynamic range of services is hard, and especially hard to drive from the top down. Yet SA has the nation’s most bureaucratic and centralised health system.

Over the past 10 years, the Government has done away with local boards while the number of bureaucrats employed by SA Health has soared. In fact, the bureaucracy has been growing at a rate four times faster than the Weatherill Government has increased nurse numbers. We need to work with local clinicians and communities to craft local solutions for local problems. A Marshall government will redirect resources to employing more doctors and nurses, who are then able to decide what they need to provide the best patient care.

Centralised administration has failed to deliver an integrated and balanced health system. The SA health care system is ready for positive transformation– but when a Government focuses solely on metropolitan hospitals, you know that they are more concerned about cuts than care.