How Sick is Our Healthcare System?

With the first half of 2020 dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, there appears to be a number of questions that seemingly can’t be unanimously answered; why is our healthcare system failing, what is at the core of the healthcare crisis and how can we fix it?

In order to begin to attempt to ask ourselves these questions, it is important that we understand the fundamentals of the healthcare system. Stephen Duckett, Health Program Director at The Grattan Institute, outlined in an interview with 2SER that he believes “… the very essence of the healthcare system is shaping our response [to COVID-19] and is limiting our response.” However, to Duckett, this system is rife with a number of systemic issues that prevent the system from growing and becoming more adaptable in times of crisis. “The very shape of our healthcare system is showing that we are not as agile in responding to Coronavirus as we might be because of these historical legacies of how we’ve organised our health systems.”

“Experts themselves are running around trying to figure things out.”

The Australian Federal Government outline that some of the primary challenges that the Australian healthcare system is facing are an increasing demand on health services and increasing rates of chronic disease. With COVID-19 gifting the Australian healthcare system with both of these challenges, how are we going to address them in order to prevent an entire system from collapsing? For Director of the Centre for Health Economics Research and Evaluation at the University of Technology Sydney Rosalie Viney, the current strain on the healthcare system is not purely from new cases of COVID-19, but from those who are already requiring continuous regular treatment. “… there is the question of how our health system will cope with people who already have chronic diseases … this is not just the matter of medicines but every aspect of the supply chains.” With the Australian Federal Government predicting the total expenditure for healthcare to be $81.8 billion for 2019-20 and $22.5 billion of this going to public hospitals, why is it that the public healthcare system still does not have the adequate resources to be able to cope with increased hospitalisations as a result of COVID-19? Whether it is issues regarding the sourcing of necessary resources or purely not enough space to accommodate everyone, it appears that corporate interest plays a fundamental role in how well the Australian healthcare system operates and how quick it is able to respond to changes.

In an interview with 2SER, Prabhu Sivabalan, Associate Dean of Engagement at the University of Technology Sydney, argued that a number of the issues in the healthcare sector are caused by inconsistent regulation from state to state and overall uncertainty amongst health professionals. “… I know from talking to folks in state health departments … [that] experts themselves are running around trying to figure things out.” Sivabalan also outlined the pressure on corporations to uphold their responsibility to the community and healthcare sector. “… you don’t want to be seen to be a company who was on the wrong side of it [the healthcare crisis] in terms of whether you helped address it or made it harder for folks on the ground … the power of society protects society.” Considering the multifaceted nature of the problems facing the healthcare system, what can be done to fix it? Increased funding? Wide-spread institutional restructuring? Increased tax rates? All of these seem like potentially plausible solutions, but will they actually work? For Sivabalan, it all comes down to a simple question; “… do we have the funds needed to resource what is required? I think the simple answer to that is that governments find a way.”

Tuesday 9th of June, 2020

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