Australia’s Health Policy: The vortex of Doom

by on 4 May, 2010


Tim Humphries writes in support of a private solution for our ailing health system.

I remember vividly during my Teenage years playing a computer game called Doom. The first person shooter game pitted you against monsters of grotesque form and required you to dispose of them with various weapons.

You might think that talking about an old cgi computer game would be disconnected from a discussion about this country’s health policy. However to me the nihilistic nature of Doom and this countries health policy seem inextricably linked.

I have been following very carefully recently, the Dr Jayant Patel case and have been struck by the way that the media have reported it.

A man died at the hands of Dr Patel three weeks after the former surgeon allegedly removed part of his bowel and failed to pinpoint the source of bleeding, a court has heard.

Crown Prosecutor Ross Martin QC described in detail to the Brisbane Supreme Court the manner in which 75-year-old pensioner Mervyn Morris was allegedly treated at Bundaberg Hospital in 2003.

Dr Jayant Patel, was charged with 3 separate counts of manslaughter during his tenure as Director of Surgical Services at the Bundaberg Hospital from 2003-2005.

Dr Patel was also charged with grievous bodily harm in relation to the case of Ian Vowles. Dr Patel pleaded not guilty to all charges and the trial has been on-going.

Despite the fact that Dr Patel is alleged to have executed several procedures that were exploratory in nature including colonoscopy, it has been alleged that the bleed point was not successfully traced.

Having not discovered any internal bleeding, Dr Patel allegedly independently decided to remove a section of the man’s bowel and subsequently installed a colostomy bag.

After several complaints from the family about lack of appetite and difficulty breathing, the patient continued to deteriorate and died on June 14 2003.

It was heard that Dr Patel assured the Morris family through his daughter that the patient would get better.

It was alleged by the prosecution that Dr Patel’s treatment of the patient was directly connected to his “avoidable death”.

The case is ongoing and conjures in my mind a very specific symptom of health policy failure in this country that extends to both sides of politics.

The internal cynic in me seems to have come to the conclusion that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd deliberately wants to ignore real health reform, as demonstrated by his recent forays into the re-assignment and re-branding of health funding arrangements at COAG.

To move piles of money around the room and proclaim that the movement of aforesaid piles of money is actually going to achieve anything is naive and verging on irresponsible.

The truth is that this country needs a significant overhaul of the way that its Health system is operated.

As centre-right thinkers, we need to pay close attention to policy options in future that will increase the capacity of health services in this country by moving to a user pays system that is accessible to more of our fellow Australians.

I believe that we have failed consistently in relation to private health policy, thus discouraging the entry of more private providers into a true market space that would inevitably drive down costs, provide better outcomes and avoid the Vortex of Doom that I have previously alluded to.

If Australia’s future population projections are going to be realized its time to stop playing bureaucratic games with buckets of money and begin the serious process of shifting the paradigm of state v.s. private health to a new level of thinking.

Both state and private health systems are important. Fiddling with tax excise increases as has been proposed by previous Leader’s is pithy in its magnitude and will do nothing to break the strangle hold that Government currently exerts on Health care in this country.

Ronald Reagan said it best when he stated the following:

Now in our country under our free enterprise system we have seen medicine reach the greatest heights that it has in any country in the world. Today, the relationship between patient and doctor in this country is something to be envied any place. The privacy, the care that is given to a person, the right to chose a doctor, the right to go from one doctor to the other.

But let’s also look from the other side, at the freedom the doctor loses. A doctor would be reluctant to say this. Well, like you, I am only a patient, so I can say it in his behalf. The doctor begins to lose freedoms; it’s like telling a lie, and one leads to another. First you decide that the doctor can have so many patients. They are equally divided among the various doctors by the government. But then the doctors aren’t equally divided geographically, so a doctor decides he wants to practice in one town and the government has to say to him you can’t live in that town, they already have enough doctors. You have to go some place else. And from here it is only a short step to dictating where he will go.

This is a freedom that I wonder whether any of us have the right to take from any human being. All of us can see what happens once you establish the precedent that the government can determine a man’s working place and his working methods, determine his employment. From here it is a short step to all the rest of socialism, to determining his pay and pretty soon your children won’t decide when they’re in school where they will go or what they will do for a living. They will wait for the government to tell them where they will go to work and what they will do.

The real Health revolution will come from a recognition that Australia must at some stage in the future move to a user pays system that introduces market forces that will boost supply and drive down costs for the consumer. 

In the end avoiding the vortex of doom requires Government to get out of the way, without this state intervention is all we can look forward to in the future.

Tim Humphries is a Brisbane based Independent Contractor and blogs at

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