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… and with the mess he has made of the health system, he’s probably killing some of your relatives too.
Mrs Fitz (I should call her Dr Fitz) is a GP, a very dedicated GP. She does home visits for her elderly and infirm patients; she does palliative care when they are dying; she has practiced in the same area for nearly 30 years and is now treating the grandchildren of the people who were her first patients; she is invited to weddings where she can say “I’ve known the bride since she was … a positive pregnancy test.”
Dr Fitz is over-worked.
Every consultation begins with the patient asking “Do you know how long I’ve waited for this appointment?” And the answer is always “Two weeks,” That’s right; Dr Fitz is booked two … weeks … ahead. Needless to say, she doesn’t see too many simple coughs and colds. Problems are always complex and walk-in emergencies always mean that the working day never ends on time. A decade of this takes its toll.
And why is this?
Two decades ago, Dr Fitz’s practice was one of the largest in Queensland with 9 full-time doctors. Since then, some doctors have retired, some have moved away to follow a spouse’s job, others have moved interstate to care for elderly parents. There are now the equivalent of 4 and a half full-time doctors treating the same number (or even more) of patient families.
This is why our hospitals are staffed by overseas-trained doctors with poor English*. This is why Queensland Health had no choice but to employ Dr Jayant Patel (aka Dr Death) at Bundaberg Hospital. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that this is also why, two months ago, a female GP in the next suburb to ours developed a sudden heart problem and passed away on the operating table.
John Howard caused the doctor shortage
In the first term of his current government, former treasurer and economic “Dry”, John Howard gave Michael Wooldridge his job as Health Minister on the condition that there was no blow-out in health care costs. There wasn’t much they could do about the demand side (people do get sick, you know) so, being clever little economists, they decided to cut back on the supply side. The number of training places at Australian Medical Schools was halved.
The impact of this short-sighted decision became acute a few years ago. In response, the number of training places was increased but unfortunately this was done with the introduction of full-fee-paying places. I’ve learned from medical school staff that the majority of these are now occupied by rich foreign students. Very few local students have been able to take on the debt.
Because of the lead time to train more GPs, it will take another decade before we can crawl out of this mess. In the meantime, we will pay with our health for this mean, penny-pinching Howard decision. Some of us will pay for it with our lives.
* Dr Fitz knows some of the doctors at the nearby Gold Coast hospital who worked with Dr Mohamed Haneef. Losing him was a double tragedy. Not only was he a competent doctor, but he was one of the very few public hospital doctors with good English.