I agree with Katherine McGrath (yesterday, Crikey, “Why the media is a barrier to health reform“) that the media has much to answer for in trivialising issues concerning the health system, and distracting political, bureaucratic and health professional attention away from the important to the immediate. There certainly needs to be more attention paid to systemic and structural issues by the media, and recognition of international trends and debates.

That said, politicians and bureaucrats, and health professionals, could do much to limit this media weakness by paying more attention to governance structures themselves, allocating risk to those best able to manage them, and sticking to that.

It is interesting to compare the handling of hospital scandals in Victoria and NSW, for example.

In Victoria, the problems of the Alfred’s Emergency Department are being managed by the CEO, Jennifer Williams, who has drawn in an expert group of medicos, and is backed by her board. It has not been easy for her or the hospital, but media attention seems generally to be focussed on the real issues and the people best able to address them. The Minister, and the department responsible for purchasing services from the hospital, have not been inappropriately distracted from their responsibilities.

In NSW, by contrast, the Royal North Shore Hospital’s problems are seen almost exclusively to be the direct responsibility of the Minister and the senior departmental bureaucrats in North Sydney….

(read the full extract at Crikey’s health forum Croakey).

Professor Stephen Leeder, Director of the Australian Health Policy Institute, writes:

An astonishing number of my colleagues — in medicine and out — complain about the distortions that the media inflict upon them, how the media manipulate their wise words and best intentions and use them, in adulterated form, to their own nefarious ends, and some even say (though not as many as one might think) that the media bother them.
Not all of these people are academics or other socially inferior life forms: some are even health service managers. Some of the loudest complainers are actually jealous and become acutely paranoid if a colleague scores a media hit, demonstrating the remarkable capacity we humans have for entertaining two apparently contradictory ideas at once.

I have had a career now spanning 35 years, with lots of media interaction. I do recall feeling pissed off with the way I had been treated — once. Of course, it could be said that my lucky run was because my approach to health care — often critical — make me a journalist manqué and if anything I am simply part of the problem. Maybe, and maybe not. It may also have had something to do with the (sometimes flawed) courtesy with which I have tried to treat the media.  (read the full extract at Crikey’s health forum Croakey). 

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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