The myth of ‘front line’ services

Governments of all persuasions regularly talk about improving the sustainability of public services. This has certainly been the mantra of the Napthine Government with their regular assertion they’re strengthening so-called front line services by cutting costs.

But such mantras, when they’re actually implemented have massive consequences, especially in critical areas like healthcare. And right now Victoria is suffering plenty because of the ill-conceived mantra of sustainability.

Pathology is one of the most important tools in a health professional’s kit. It is the tool that doctors and specialists rely on to make a diagnosis and to find treatments. They’re also used to make sure that the treatment your doctor or specialist has prescribed is actually working. It’s also the work of the medical scientists in pathology to do cross-matching blood for life-saving transfusions.

Unfortunately for Victorians, the Napthine Government has determined that such a vital service, a service every patient needs, is not a so-called ‘front line’ service. Because of the ‘sustainability’ mantra, more and more public hospitals are looking at extreme measures to cut costs; and it is in the cost cutting craze that pathology services are either being downsized or contracted out.

The increased down-sizing and contracting out of pathology services means delays in getting results to tests, which can be very problematic in quickly determining a diagnosis or trying to identify why a particular treatment isn’t working. And it is also leading to private pathology providers, like Dorevitch Pathology, having more influence over the quality of care hospitals and community health services are able to provide. In fact we’re witnessing a winding back on quality health care in regional Victoria as St John of God is planning to close four public hospital pathology laboratories.

There are also growing concerns about the dwindling medical scientist workforce. With the increasing attacks on budgets and efforts by hospital managements to slash pay and conditions, more medical scientists are walking away. Instead of addressing this, the government and the Victorian health sector believe the answer is in employing unqualified and untrained people to fill critical jobs – it’s already happening in Warragul with an untrained scientist conducting blood cross-matching work.

So while the Napthine Government talks about making health care in Victoria ‘sustainable’, the reality is that patients will be forced to wait longer, possibly to the detriment of their health, for pathology test results. But if the Napthine Government continues its ill-conceived mantra on ‘sustainability’ we could find a health system incapable of delivering world-class health care.

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