Health de­ci­sions must ben­e­fit sick peo­ple, not politi­cians

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health - PA­TIENT PER­SPEC­TIVE

AS a mem­ber­ship-driven or­gan­i­sa­tion, the Con­sumers’ Health Fo­rum of Aus­tralia (CHF) prides it­self on lis­ten­ing and re­spond­ing to the needs of con­sumers. But what hap­pens when con­sumers do not agree, or when the needs of some con­sumers ap­pear to con­flict with the needs of oth­ers?

Take the re­cent de­ci­sion of the fed­eral Gov­ern­ment to take over the Mersey Hospi­tal in Devon­port, Tas­ma­nia. This de­ci­sion was clearly wel­comed by many of the peo­ple liv­ing in Devon­port. News re­ports showed peo­ple lin­ing the street to wel­come the Prime Min­is­ter when he vis­ited the town af­ter mak­ing the an­nounce­ment.

The fed­eral Gov­ern­ment ar­gues that it has lis­tened and re­sponded to con­sumers’ needs in over­rid­ing the state’s de­ci­sion to scale down the ser­vices of­fered by the hospi­tal.

On the other hand, this de­ci­sion was made af­ter a com­pre­hen­sive con­sul­ta­tion process, in­volv­ing con­sumers as well as other health stake­hold­ers. Fur­ther­more, ex­perts warned that con­tin­u­ing to pro­vide emer­gency and in­ten­sive care fa­cil­i­ties at the Mersey — even with the fed­eral Gov­ern­ment’s in­jec­tion of funds — would re­sult in Devon­port res­i­dents re­ceiv­ing sub-stan­dard care. Clearly this is not in the best in­ter­ests of con­sumers in the area.

So how do we make sense of th­ese con­flict­ing views, and en­sure that de­ci­sions made about health fund­ing de­liver the best out­comes for con­sumers? Af­ter all, whether fund­ing for health ser­vices comes from gov­ern­ments via our taxes, di­rectly from con­sumers via out-of-pocket pay­ments or in­di­rectly via private health in­sur­ance, ul­ti­mately con­sumers pay for all health ser­vices.

Ask­ing con­sumers about whether re­sources should go to one health ser­vice, with­out con­sid­er­ing over­all re­source al­lo­ca­tion, is like ask­ing some­one to man­age their fam­ily’s gro­cery bud­get with­out telling them what their to­tal house­hold’s dis­pos­able in­come is and what their other ex­penses are.

While it may seem like politi­cians are lis­ten­ing to the com­mu­nity when elec­tion prom­ises are made, pork-bar­relling is no sub­sti­tute for real con­sul­ta­tion.

All too of­ten dur­ing elec­tion cam­paigns the in­ter­ests of some groups of con­sumers are given a higher pri­or­ity due to their per­ceived in­flu­ence over the elec­tion out­come. To re­phrase Ge­orge Or­well’s fa­mous line, when it comes to elec­tion cam­paigns some con­sumers are def­i­nitely more equal than oth­ers.

So how do we ad­dress this is­sue, as the elec­tion gets closer, to make sure that elec­tion com­mit­ments are made in the best in­ter­ests of con­sumers, not just as a short-term way of buy­ing votes?

The key is for con­sumers to have in­put into de­ci­sions be­ing made about health re­sourc­ing, at both a na­tional and lo­cal level. This en­sures the in­ter­ests of con­sumers over­all can be con­sid­ered when th­ese de­ci­sions are made, along with those of spe­cific groups of con­sumers and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

Un­for­tu­nately, how­ever, there is no re­quire­ment for po­lit­i­cal par­ties to con­sult with non­par­ti­san con­sumer rep­re­sen­ta­tives when mak­ing elec­tion cam­paign de­ci­sions.

How­ever, as con­sumers we can be vig­i­lant in scru­ti­n­is­ing the prom­ises of all po­lit­i­cal par­ties and judg­ing them against whether or not they rep­re­sent a good use of re­sources.

As pay­ers, we have both a right and a strong in­cen­tive to en­sure that health re­sources are used to de­liver health out­comes for con­sumers, and not sim­ply votes for politi­cians. Mitch Messer is chair of the Con­sumers’ Health Fo­rum of Aus­tralia.

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