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Research is fine, but what can we do today for health?

Crikey readers talk overhauling the healthcare system and the relative merits of roads.

Is there a better way to help healthcare than medical research?

Tony Luff writes: Re. “Keane: Hockey robs from the poor — but not the rich — in first budget” (yesterday). Have just heard that Hockey claims that the Medicare co-payment will go into a medical research endowment fund that “will be the best in the world”. Two aspects to that.

One of the best endowment funds for medical research that I am aware of is the province of Alberta, Canada, which invested its oil royalties into a fund for medical research and other activities. No longer sure of the details and the revenue stream.

The other aspect is: do we need more “medical research” (to bring down health costs) or do we simply need to implement health strategies that have been proven to improve health? For example: increased exercise and physical activity. Such as implementation of the Heart Foundation report “Blueprint for an active Australia”.  This is a highly researched based report that would produce significant benefits to patients and the healthcare systems if implemented.

I am a strong supporter of medical research, but the costs of the healthcare system/industry can most immediately improved by utilising what is already known about disease processes and their response to exercise/physical activity etc.

We’re stuck with roads

Peter Callil writes: Re. “Roads are so 20th century” (yesterday). George Crisp wrote that my argument is based on fallacies, and suggests firstly, “There is no evidence to suggest that building new and bigger roads solves congestion”.

He may actually have a point there, even though it doesn’t make rational sense. Building one road or a section of road will not alleviate congestion much, because it will simply transfer the congestion from one point to another. Another issue is driver lane etiquette and competence. We can build wider roads, but if drivers hog the right lane and refuse to move out of the way for faster traffic, it’s not very efficient. There are many policies that could be implemented that would make road traffic much more efficient, but roads departments are obsessed with safety at the expense of all else. But I believe they have another agenda.

The Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices, a state government guide, mentions a universal goal of achieving safety and efficiency, but it has been forgotten over the years as safety has become the only goal. This is a mistake, but that small mistake is central to both diminishing safety returns, and decreasing the efficiency of motor transport.

Cycling is the most efficient form of transport, but if the roads were paved with sand, there were numerous obstacles built to frustrate cyclists, and they had to pay handsomely for the privilege, then we’d be on equal terms.

Then Crisp writes: “He assumes the future will be just like the past only bigger. This is very unlikely …”  This sounds like an assumption, presumably based on a utopian vision of a future where everyone travelled by high-speed public monorails and spent their leisure time sipping lattes after a strenuous cycle around the cycleways that remain after cars were rendered obsolete.

Unless you see a time when we will no longer need the construction industry, maintenance workers, goods transport, mining, agriculture, manufacturing, and just about everything else that supports our standard of living, then I reckon we’re stuck with roads whether we like it or not.

Regarding the health and social benefits of active transport, I agree, sort of.  My wife and I cycled around the south island of New Zealand on our honeymoon in 1991. But I’m not so sure about an overall health benefit — in the last 12 months I’ve had two near-misses and one contact with a car at roundabouts while cycling. I still like cycling, but it’s impossible to get the kids to join me for a ride, so I go for a ride on my motorbike for recreation.

Roads are so 20th century, but it’s more to do with dumb road safety policies, drivers who are stale, and regulations that make roads prohibitively expensive that are the problem. I’m hoping for a future where we have flying cars personally, but there are political reasons why that will never happen, so I guess we’re stuck with roads.

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