PUBLIC health care is in crisis, not only here on the Border but throughout the country.
But you wouldn’t know it unless you saw reports in various media about the pressures on health budgets and a meeting of health ministers Tanya Plibersek and David Davis in an airport lounge in Melbourne on Friday last week.
That same day there was confirmation the public elective surgery waiting list in our region would hit 4000 this week, rising to 5500 by the end of June, as Albury Wodonga Health is forced to cut the number of surgical procedures it performs by 300 a month.
Having spent the better part of the past 15 years at The Border Mail reporting on health issues, including the introduction of the cross-border health service and the herculean efforts over that time by many in our community to build our health resources, I was waiting for the collective cry of public outrage.
It never came.
There were a handful of online comments, a couple of phone calls and emails from interested parties expressing their dismay at the long-term implications for the provision of health care on the Border and then ... nothing.
I am angry, on so many counts.
How can any government, whether Labor or Coalition, state or federal, justify funding cuts that force our health service to tighten its budget by almost $4 million over a six-month period?
Instead our healthcare ends up as a political football, tossed from one government or political party to the next as they blame the other for funding formulas that change, for promises unmet, anything but admit they are responsible for taking the money away.
That $4 million isn’t for niceties or optional extras; it’s money needed to deliver the operations to replace joints, to fix hernias, to alleviate pain and suffering.
There are now people on the Border whose medical complaint isn’t sufficient to have them categorised as an emergency case but who will be forced to suffer longer before their surgery can be done.
Alternatively, their condition will deteriorate to the point where they become an emergency case, putting them at greater risk during a now urgently needed operation likely to cost more because it will take them longer to recover.
What happens to these patients in the interim, while they wait to move to the head of the queue?
Many may have conditions that inhibit their mobility, their ability to work, their enjoyment of life.
Why am I angry? Because our health service has sufficient resources, in terms of equipment, operating theatres and medical personnel available to deliver the surgeries needed to reduce the numbers on the waiting lists.
But what is happening and will continue to happen in our public health service is the erosion of resources while there is a lack of political will to solve the problem rather than pass the buck.
For so long our community has been attracting doctors to our region; we needed GPs and then we needed specialists in various areas to ensure patients didn’t have to travel to Sydney or Melbourne — but suddenly we are in danger of losing them just when we have built a reputation for our region as a leader in medical care.
That is such an important factor in promoting the economic growth of Albury-Wodonga; people will move here if they can be assured of the necessities including medical care and education.
That is why we must make a noise and express our disgust at all governments’ repeated sacking of our region’s health budgets.
If we say nothing now, the “dumbing down” of our public health system will continue and 12 months on we’ll find ourselves with a rising waiting list with no hope of the shortfall being met.
It isn’t enough to argue that we are in safe conservative seats at a state and federal level and we cannot change policy.
There must be a collective effort to hold all governments and oppositions to account, to ensure they deliver on services that are a necessity for all.