What is happening to our national public health system is a huge crime. The cuts are literally killing, infecting and effectively torturing many patients as well as destroying the morale and working conditions of nurses, support staff and doctors. The Howard government aware of the fact that the vast majority of the population want free and accessible high quality health care was careful before the election not to attack the medicare system. What the liberals are proceeding to carry out in conjunction with the states is not just to cutback the health system, which the Labor Party had been doing for years, but they are now delivering actual body blows. Making it impossible for hospitals to function properly. A chief surgeon interviewed by Ray Martin said “if the public heath service was a dog you’d shoot it”, and as a result wanted to resign.
In Victoria they are attempting to close Altona, Mordialloc, Essendon, Burwood and Hampton hospitals. Also to close will be North West Hospital’s Greenvale campus, the Henry Pride and Victoria Parade geriatric Centres and the Royal Park and Heatherton psychiatric hospitals. The Preston and Northcote Community Hospital, Caulfield General Medical Centre and St Georges hospital are to be down graded.
The closure of Fairfield and other infectious diseases wards is directly responsible for more than 150 nurses at Dandenong Hospital being infected with Tuberculosis. Without a course of drugs for six months one in ten will develop TB and currently three of the nurses have already developed full blown TB. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Other infectious diseases such as the deadly ‘golden staff’ have been transmitted to patients due to a break down in hygiene standards due to staff cuts. A call for a public inquiry by nurses and doctors was refused by the Kennett government. Over the past four years 40,000 health worker jobs and 1,300 beds have been eliminated in Victoria.
In Sydney back in June the Carr Labor Government announced an $80 million cut to the health budget involving the loss of 2,000 jobs, the axing of 500 beds, the closure of four hospitals and the down grading of many more. Mass mobilisations by hospital unionists and local communities have stopped the closure of two hospitals and the campaign continues. These Sydney battles show the way forward. When health unionists working in an alliance with local communities and fellow unions move into action, governments can be forced to spend money on what is actually needed. Taxes are for health and other essential services, not casino’s, grand prix’s, subsidies for big business and the huge salaries of politicians and top bureaucrats. Many of the immediate problems could be solved quickly if the rich payed the full amount of tax they are currently required to pay. The wealth is there, its just in the hands of a greedy few.
We must be careful not to create the impression that the public health care system is totally hopeless, a fantastic level of care is still maintained despite the huge adversities. Their are countless unsung heroes working enormous hours keeping the system afloat. The battle is far from lost and the reason federal and state governments sit back and ride the verbal outrage expressed from all quarters is that it indirectly serves their underlying economic motives. The liberals and the capitalist class as a whole want to see the shift to an American style health system based on private health care. In Melbourne alone plans are afoot for three more private hospitals. It is similar to what they are doing to state education; slashing funds and creating a climate which convinces people that they have to fork out money for private health, private education if they are to get proper service provision.
This means the rich and middle classes will receive private health care while pensioners, youth, unemployed, aboriginals and working people are left with a run down, under resourced public health system, which can’t cope with the demands put on it. This is the logic of the profit driven system we are currently trapped in, the capitalists are constantly trying to make money out of every social relation humans enter into. This madness has to be stopped and can be stopped. People need to take their anger out of their lounge rooms and onto the streets. Only together active and organised can we stop the steady progress we are making towards barbarism.
By Simon Millar