Professor Philip Davies, of the University of Queensland, was blunt in his assessment of the difficulties confronting health reform in Australia at yesterday’s Lismore forum.
Professor Philip Davies, of the University of Queensland, was blunt in his assessment of the difficulties confronting health reform in Australia at yesterday’s Lismore forum. David Nielsen

No quick fixes for health system

THERE was no silver bullet to fix the ailing health system, a leading health academic said yesterday, throwing doubt on the ability of the Federal Government to meet its election promise to repair it.

Speaking at the Northern Rivers University Department of Rural Health forum, Philip Davies, Professor in Health Systems and Policy at the University of Queensland, said no matter how much money governments poured into the ailing health system, it would never be perfect.

“Our system can and will adapt and get better, but it will do so gradually at best, and I suspect it will never be perfect,” he said.

The landmark Garling Report into the NSW health system found hospitals were ‘in a period of crisis’ requiring an urgent and radical overhaul to make patients ‘the paramount central concern’ and relieve the pressure on overworked medical staff.

During the last Federal election, Kevin Rudd promised to fix the health system. But last week the Government held its 100th consultation and no solution is in sight.

Prof Davies said simply throwing additional money at the problem was not a solution.

He told the forum that every nation was experiencing similar problems and that the six top health spending nations had not achieved value for money in terms of extending average life expectancy; with the biggest spender, the US, having lower life expectancy than Australia, which spends less.

“At any particular level at health spending you can have smart spending or you can have wasteful spending,” he said.

“The job of government is not only the quantity of health spending, but the quality of health spending.”

In a wide-ranging speech entitled ‘Why is health reform so hard’, Prof Davies, who is also a former health bureaucrat, said the Government would have to consider better integ-ration of health services, a focus on early intervention, changes to the payment mechanism and changes in the workforce.

He envisaged that in the future a patient may employ a doctor to look after their health for a set period of time, rather than the current system where doctors are consultant on an ad hoc basis when needed.

Prof Davies was also critical of work demarcation lines in the health system, which he likened to the waterfront before the Howard government reforms.



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