Lucky to have health system
This article first appeared in the Sunday Mail
Our health system cops a lot of flak, some of it justified due to policy failures, funding shortfalls or bureaucracy gone mad. However, amongst all of this criticism too often we fail to acknowledge just how lucky we are to have the health system we've got.
This year I have been fortunate to see our health system working at its best, with all of the principles of early identification and preventative treatment applied for the benefit of the newest addition to our family.
In Australia a twenty week ultrasound is the norm for expectant mothers. For most it is a happy chance to see their baby taking shape and be reassured that all is proceeding well. However, that happiness quickly becomes unease when you realise the news you are getting is not an all clear.
In our case the unease proved to be minor compared to the problems that some new parents suddenly face. Our baby appeared to have a minor problem affecting the right kidney.
Specialist referrals ensued, where one of the many fine medical professionals with which we in South Australia are blessed calmly explained the problem, the prognosis and the solution. Biology was never my strong suit, so it took a fair degree of explaining!
In the weeks following her birth our baby girl faced a series of scans and tests. My wife and I marvelled at the technology, knowing we were truly getting value for our tax dollars from the expensive equipment and expert staff at the Women's and Children's Hospital.
This month we were back at the hospital again, where our little three month old girl underwent kidney surgery. From administrators to anaesthetists, surgeons to nurses, the professionalism, care and concern of those at the WCH provided all the reassurance two anxious parents could hope for as we watched our little girl go off to surgery and awaited her recovery. Our heartfelt thanks goes out to them all.
We were a relatively easy case. Looking around the corridors at other anxious, weary or battle-hardened parents during the days of hospitalisation that ensued we knew just how lucky we were that this surgery should be the end of the matter for our precious child.
The experience also reinforced just how lucky we are to be in Australia. For the vast majority of those born just a few hundred kilometres from Australia in Papua New Guinea or East Timor the odds are that a similar problem would never have been identified. Left untreated they may have faced infections, with life changing consequences.
In Australia infant mortality occurs at a rate of 4.5 deaths per 1,000 live births. In PNG and Timor tragedy strikes at almost ten times our rate, with around 42 deaths for every 1,000 live births. For mothers the comparisons between Australia and our near neighbours are even starker. Maternal mortality runs at 230 deaths per 100,000 live births in PNG and 300 deaths in 100,000 in Timor, compared to just 7 in 100,000 here in Australia.
As a politician I am often at the forefront of criticising the failures of government, including in our health system. It's important we strive to always do better, be as efficient as possible and eliminate mistakes, so I don't expect such criticism to end.
But in striving to do better we should never forget how lucky we are to enjoy the treatments, facilities and equipment we have in Australia and, especially, the committed people who work day and night within our health system. For this, my family certainly gives thanks, as should we all.