Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Hampered health market a blinding failure for southern patients


Did you hear news this morning that ophthalmologists in Southland are so overworked that eye patients are losing vision in their long wait for available specialists. “The condition of 30 people who are losing their eyesight has worsened because of significant delays in treatment at Dunedin and Southland hospitals,” says RNZ.

Six of the worst-affected patients have had severe eyesight loss.
    A further 4600 people have received letters from Southern District Health Board (DHB) this week saying their eye operations are overdue…
    "Twenty-four of the patients have had to have additional health interventions."
    Some patients waited five times as long to be seen as they clinically should have…

The reason, according to Southlands health bureaucrats? Too many patients, and too many new treatments with which to treat them.

So you might find yourself thinking, wow, if only Southland had more ophthalmologists, right?

Well, just remember that it was not that long ago that Southland ophthalmologists were “working to block Australian doctors from performing routine eye procedures in Southland.”

Southern Health received Government funding for an extra 225 cataract operations and tried to get two Australian ophthalmologists to perform the procedures.
    But one of the doctors did not complete the operations he was contracted for after New Zealand surgeons failed to clear him to do the work.
    The second was apparently told it was not in his career interests to operate in Invercargill.

Implicated in this protectionist racket were five eye surgeons including both the president and vice president of the Ophthalmological Society of New Zealand – the eye surgeons’ trade union. This was the culture within these entities and their union: their margins were more important than their patients’ health, such that an eye surgeon from out of town was told “it was not in his career interests to operate in Invercargill.”

Does that culture still hinder the employment of eye surgeons down south? Well, some of those operating this protectionist racket are still in practice. And while fining these low-lifes a token sum as penance once the practice was exposed, the operations were still undone, and the law still protects those without this trade-union’s accreditation from saving patients’ eyes. So it is still a factor.

And there is a lesson here. What happens in unhampered markets when there’s a big increase in demand for haircuts, massage therapy or ice cream? More barbers, masseuses and purveyors of delightful desserts see this as a boon, and come hither in search of higher margins. What happens in hampered markets when patients losing their eyesight need urgent treatment? See above.


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