The more things change, the more they stay the same. Queensland’s health system is again in crisis, with Queenslanders told by our ministers only to use the public hospital system in an emergency. And, predictably, the Premier is blaming the federal government. As the Courier-Mail reports this morning:
THE Premier has again attempted to deflect blame to the Federal Government over Queensland’s health woes.
Annastacia Palaszczuk claims the Federal Government owes her government $300 million in health funding.
The involvement of both federal and state governments in the health system is one of the underlying causes of the current crisis, of course. The other underlying cause is that, as Queensland Health’s website notes:
If you are eligible for Medicare you can access: public hospital and community-based services for low or no cost…
We have made a value judgment as a society that public health is important and should be heavily subsidised. That is fine, but we need to understand the economic consequences of that choice. We are setting aside the price mechanism which we rely on in so many markets to balance supply and demand. In other markets we ration by price, but in health we need to ration by quantity, meaning that, in Queensland, we now have to tell people to stay away from public hospitals unless it’s a life-or-death emergency.
Sure, we have had population growth and a spike in summer flu cases, but if we have a purely demand-driven system we are always at risk of having insufficient capacity. As a caller asked Steve Austin on his 612 ABC Brisbane Drive show yesterday afternoon, how would our hospitals cope if there were a major incident (e.g. plane or bus crash, natural disaster, etc)?
I should say the Premier is partly right to blame the federal government, as both state and federal governments are responsible for the health system, but she needs to recognise her government’s own role in the mess. State and federal governments both need to work together to find a solution and, ideally, one level of government would eventually leave health solely to the other level of government, so there is clear accountability.
You can read about Queensland’s first health crisis, which began with the revelations about “Dr Death” at Bundaberg Hospital in 2005, and resulted in a panicked, costly response from the Beattie government, in my 2018 book Beautiful One Day, Broke the Next.