Governments treat their employers (us) with such contempt.
They genuinely think we can’t handle the truth, that they need to control the information flow so our little heads don’t explode, or our little worlds implode.
No - not the Wikileaks saga. The MyHospitals debacle.
The Federal Government site is but a shell, a skeletal frame of information that will neither help consumers make decisions nor spark underperformers into action - let alone highlight where they’re underfunding.
What people want to know when going to hospital (assuming they’re in a fit state to wonder) is how long it will take to be seen, how good the care is, and what the risks are.
The current website tells them none of that. Sure, it’s good to be able to compare elective and emergency waiting times to a national average; that is, it’s good for us media types to see who’s falling behind.
But it’s not much use to the average punter who just wants to know where to get their hip done - especially when the data is up to 18 months old.
For emergencies, you’re either not going to have a choice about where to go because you’re in the back of an ambulance, or you need to know what the waiting time is now. Not last financial year.
What we should have got was real-time data. What we also deserved to get was the rate of hospital-acquired infections, the number of preventable deaths, and the sentinel events data.
That’s health department speak for how good the hygiene is, and how often they cock up.
On the grimy surface of it, you can see how the raw statistics on hospitals are a tricky subject.
Imagine if people actually knew what danger they were in every time they were admitted.
Hospital-acquired infections are costly, common, and potentially deadly. Many of them are now resistant to antibiotics.
Golden staph is a pretty name for a nasty bug that can blow a testicle up to the size of a watermelon and turn the simplest procedure into a dire emergency.
Then there’s vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE), another superbug that is now endemic in our hospitals. Doctors describe it as being like honey. Sticky. Impossible to remove, oozing from hand to beside table to light switch to open wound, imperceptibly.
Then there’s this new superbug, NDM-1. Is it in your local hospital? Wouldn’t you like to know?
It would also be helpful to know the rates of preventable deaths and other sentinel events, which can range from inpatient suicide to the odd sponge left inside someone’s abdomen.
The most cogent argument against revealing this sort of data is that it’s often not the specific hospital’s fault that their stats are bad.
Large metropolitan teaching hospitals end up with the most complex cases. They also deal with the sharpest ebbs and flows in emergency presentations.
It may seem unfair to punish them for doing worse than their less pressured counterparts.
But those variables can be explained. And we are grown up enough to understand that different places face different challenges.
What we are also mature enough to grasp is that where a hospital has dropped below its peers on, say, infections or deaths, there’s probably a good reason.
Overcrowding, a lack of resources, understaffing, for example.
The sorts of things that governments don’t really want you to know about.
Health Minister Nicola Roxon says some of the statistics on mistakes may eventually be added whether she has to battle the states to get them in is yet to be seen.
And who knows in this case, telling the truth could have an immediate and beneficial side effect. It could scare off all those people who don’t really need to go to hospital in the first place, leaving enough beds for the seriously sick.
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