Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Cold comfort in die-while-you-wait hospitals

While the amount taxpayers are forced to pay on the government's die-while-you-wait health system has increased by billions every year, the waiting and the dying has only got worse.

Just four weeks ago figures were released revealing that up to one in eight patients at Wellington's hospitals "is the victim of a medical accident, error or mishap," and up to twenty-three patients of Wellington's Capital Coast Health were either killed or endured serious harm through inattention, incompetence and bungling. [Radio NZ story here. Dom Post story here.]

At the time, Capital Coast Health apologists issued the airy dismissal that "these problems occur everywhere" -- made no less scary by the fact the apologists seemed to think this made it okay -- and just last week Health and Disability Commissioner Ron Paterson warned that New Zealand hospitals are "unsafe."  He's right.  Just this morning we received some confirmation that incompetence that kills is both nationwide and endemic, in news that

Mistakes led to the deaths of or serious harm to 182 patients in public hospitals between July 2006 and June 2007.

This is not good.  Not good at all.  And all while government spending on the government's health system has rocketed. The answer is clearly not more of our money. Some more substantial change is needed.

Now, it's true that these problems do occur everywhere -- that is, everywhere the state attempts to handle the lion's share of a country's health care.

In Britain, for example, studies suggest these serious or "sentinel" events as they're called regularly affect up to one in ten patients, and that this figure is normal for a bureaucratically driven state-run hospital system. One in ten. Think about what that means for a moment. It's a level of incompetence that is life threatening for one in every ten patients that enter the portals of a government-run hospital.

Think about that next time it's you or a loved one entering that hospital.

Frighteningly, this is a level of failure -- of failure that leads to death -- that state health apologists consider acceptable, and with the more excuses for failure we hear, the more it's clear just how much failure has now come to be accepted as normal. The apologies and excuses offer no comfort at all that any motivation even exists to remedy the bungling that last year killed twenty-three people in Wellington's government hospitals forty people in government hospitals around the country.  Of the horrifying figures for example, minister David Cunliffe Health Minister David Cunliffe says "the numbers are small" and insists "New Zealand hospitals are among the safest in the world."

Cold comfort.

It's not just a die-while you wait system. These figures show there are good odds you'll die if you get there as well. Perhaps that's why fifty-six percent of New Zealanders surveyed recently told the Commonwealth Fund International Health Survey that the country's creaking health system needs "fundamental change." This isn't time to sit around and make excuses. It's not time to simply change the administrators and keep the same failed system. It's time for radical action.


  1. I shudder to think what the figures are for Christchurch Hospital.

    I had the misfortune in July/August 1998 to be a patient when the first outbreak of 'Superbug' took place, resulting in the ward being sealed off for some time...(and a great deal of publicity in the media)

    This caused understandable upset amongst we patients for a couple of weeks as no one was sure what the superbug was, let alone how to treat it!

    This shocking and terrifying experience put me off the Public Health system forever...the sooner every hospital is closed down, the better.

  2. Anyone who trusts the state, or it's agents in any way, shape or form is taking a massive risk.

    The State ain't your friend, and they can be reliably expected to stuff things up. And good luck getting any comebacks when it happens.



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