Former Chairman of the Federal AMA and Deputy President of the NSW Medical Board, Dr Peter Arnold, writes:

Although John Deeble and I were, literally, on opposite sides of the table when Bill Hayden was planning Medibank (Mark I), our views have, over the decades, gradually moved towards one another.

We are agreed, in private conversation, for example, that a continuing fault of Medibank I and its successors has been the absence of a ‘brake pedal’ to dampen the accelerated use (and abuse) of the almost free service.

I have done my bit, on behalf of the AMA, in trying to reduce ‘overservicing’, now known by the more accurate term which I suggested – ‘inappropriate practice’.

Now I cannot help but agree with John’s views in the Sydney Morning Herald on April 14 (“Hospitals plan is a vague prescription“).

However, while his views are based on the ‘dismal science’ of Economics, my agreement is based on something more realistic.

Australia has run out of nurses.

There is, Mr Rudd, no ‘shortage of beds’.

There are beds aplenty, but in closed wards.

The wards are closed because of the shortage of nurses.

The ‘politically correct’, allegedly ‘pro-feminist’, transfer of nurse training from the public hospitals to the universities has depleted our hospitals of young people willing to learn ‘on the job’, while lending a helping hand in caring for patients.

The ‘career paths’ of many nursing university graduates leads away from the bedside, to administrative office jobs and, via Masters and Doctors degrees, to further theorising of what is, in essence, a hands-on, caring profession.

Work which used to be done by trained ‘registered nurses’ is increasingly being done by ‘enrolled nurses’.

Work which used to be done by ‘enrolled nurses’ is increasingly being done by ‘nursing aides’.

Family members are now stepping in, as in most third-world countries, to help care for hospitalised relatives.

No volume of words about ‘bed shortages’, and no quantum of money spent on hospitals, will alleviate the shortage of nurses.

Unless we find out why young people do not want to nurse and unless we make nurse education and nursing careers attractive once more, the waiting lists will simply lengthen.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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